July 16, 2014

Case File #014.07.16: GROG

Originally meaning “rum mixed with water,” grog first entered the English lexicon in the mid-eighteenth century as an allusion to Edward Vernon, a noted British admiral who had the nickname Old Grog due to his habit of wearing a cloak made of grogram. (Grogram is a course, stiff fabric made of silk or a blend of silk and mohair or silk and wool.) In 1740, the stern skinflint Vernon ordered that his sailors' rum rations be cut with water, and it didn't take long for the incensed sailors to christen the diluted rum with the nickname of their malefactor. By the end of the eighteenth century, however, grog had come to mean “any liquor that has been diluted with water,” and in the early twentieth century, the word came to be used as an informal reference to any cheap alcoholic drink, especially beer. Around 1830, the noun grog begat the adjective groggy, which, not surprisingly, at first meant “drunk or intoxicated,” though it is now used more broadly to mean “dazed, weak, or unsteady, especially when due to intoxication, illness, or lack of sleep.”

©2014 Michael R. Gates

July 9, 2014

Case File #014.07.09: JOY

The noun joy has its roots in the Latin verb gaudere, which was used to mean both “to be happy” and “to rejoice.” From the Latin verb came the noun gaudium, meaning “delight” or “something that causes delight,” and its plural gaudia, and gaudia later passed into Old French as joie, which meant “a feeling of intense pleasure or happiness, or an instance of such a feeling” and “a source of great pleasure or happiness.” Around 1200, Middle English speakers borrowed the Old French noun but quickly Anglicized its form to the now familiar joy, and not long after, the English word also acquired two verb senses: “to experience great pleasure” and “to take delight in (something).” The verb, however, eventually fell out of favor with everybody except poets, and only the noun senses of joy remain in common use today.

©2014 Michael R. Gates

July 2, 2014

Case File #014.07.02: OPPORTUNE

While we in the twenty-first century might not think of opportune as a seafaring word, the fact is that it kind of started out as one. You see, back in the days of ancient Rome, long before the invention of our more reliable modern seagoing vessels and global-positioning technology and the like, taking a sea voyage was much riskier and more dangerous than it is now. Thus, Roman sailors viewed the harbor as a safe haven and considered the moments when they sailed into port as happy and favorable ones, and it should come as no surprise, then, that the Latin phrase ob portum, which meant “toward a port,” became an idiom meaning “advantageous conditions” or “propitious circumstances.” Over time, the idiomatic phrase evolved into the Latin adjective opportunus, which was used to mean both “apt or suitable” and “favorable,” and this passed into Old French as opportun. English speakers borrowed the Old French around the end of the fourteenth century, Anglicizing the word's form to opportune and refining its primary meaning to “suitable or appropriate for a particular purpose” and its secondary to “occurring at a useful or advantageous time.”

©2014 Michael R. Gates