Day #315: Nussbaum

I am grateful for the endless possibilities of language. This morning (before 7 am) my spouse and I were discussing the origins of the terms “Don’t be a nussbaum” and his memories of playing with army men with parachutes attached that they called “Ish Kabibble.” Alert: word derivation mysteries! The hunt is on. Where did these words originate and how did they enter our family lexicon? Not that we’ve discovered any answers.

Nussbaum means “nut tree” in German. It’s a last name. Martha Nussbaum is a distinguished philosopher and educator. But none of that explains our family use of the word (but researching Martha Nussbaum convinced me I need to learn more about her philosophy and read her books.)

Ish Kabibble? Look him up on Wikipedia. Fascinating! A study in how words are invented and spread over miles and across years. However, no reason is evident for naming army men Ish Kabibble. Steve believes he might have attached the name to them, but where would he have heard this term? (He’s not THAT old.)

Do you have familiar family phrases for which the origin is fuzzy? I am curious what they might be.

I truly LOVE searches like this. What a great way to start the day!

detective work

Day #308: New words

I am grateful for learning new words. Today I learned “bae.” According to an etymological dictionary, it is Danish for poop. The interesting part is that it is now used to mean sweetheart or baby (affectionate term for girlfriend or boyfriend). I haven’t found anything that traces that path. New words are treasures! (I am not going to post a photo to go with this subject so you’re getting a photo of autumn leaves instead.) (Now, should I call Steve my bae? Hmmm.)

autumn leaves

Day #123: Raconteur


While reading “My Father’s Stack of Books” by Kathryn Schulz in The New Yorker, I came across her description of her father as an “epic raconteur.” I stopped. Word bliss settled in. “Raconteur.” I hadn’t thought of that word for a while. Don’t you love it when you encounter an old friend? A word that you admire for its meaning and its sound and the feelings it stirs inside you?

Merriam Webster says this about the etymology of “raconteur”: The story of raconteur is a tale of telling and counting. English speakers borrowed the word from French, where it traces back to the Old French verb raconter, meaning “to tell.” Raconter in turn was formed from another Old French verb, aconter or acompter, meaning “to tell” or “to count,” which is ultimately from Latin computare, meaning “to count.” Computare is also the source of our words count and account. Raconteur has been part of the English vocabulary since at least 1828.

I will express my gratitude for the meaning of words, the sound of words, and the origins or words more than once during this Year of Gratitude. They are one of the greatest pleasures of my life.

Do you have a word you’ve re-discovered recently?

Day #101: My Dictionary

As a child, I remember being told—often—to “look it up in the dictionary.” That was a treat. It wasn’t long before I did so without being told. When I graduated from high school, my mother gave me The Reader’s Digest Great Encyclopedic Dictionary, one of my Top Ten Favorite Gifts of all time. The portion that was the Funk & Wagnall’s Standard College Dictionary featured etymology. There were dictionaries in French, German, and Spanish. An entire section contained essays on research, writing, and speaking. There were pages filled with salutations for correspondence. I often used the dictionaries of space and medical terms. The dictionary of American slang and the dictionary of quotations are well-thumbed. I used this as my primary research tool for papers in college and grad school and now it settles arguments when we’re playing games. I still find magic in opening up to any page and reading.

The Reader's Digest Great Encyclopedic Dictionary

In my college library science classes, we studied dictionaries for 14 weeks. It was one of my most memorable classes. But I never found a dictionary to compare to mine. It’s falling to pieces now, but I can’t bear to part with it. I am grateful to the group of specialists who created this book. What a feat!