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Tuesday, April 23, 2013


 Steve Cole muses: Just thinking to himself about the curious origins of interesting words:

1. JANUARY, now the first month of the year, was named for the old Italian god Janus. He was in charge of doorways and always shown as having two faces. Perhaps one saw the outside and the other the inside, or one saw the front door and the other the back door. The original Roman calendar had ten (longer) months. Later this was changed and two months (January and February) were added to the end. (Janus was picked because his feast day fell in that month). March was the first month of the year until about 400AD. Janus did not become the first month of the year in every country until 1582 as some continued to regard March as the first month.

2. JEEP, the small quarter-ton truck (and now a line of cars that continue the spirit) began as an alien character in the Popeye cartoon strip. Eugene the Jeep could move into the invisible fourth dimension and reappear somewhere else. When the quarter-ton truck was invented, it had no official name, and had dozens of unofficial names. Irvin Hausmann, one of the test drivers, hated most of the unofficial names but liked jeep and used the name at every opportunity. His one-man campaign branded the vehicle forever. Some think the name came from "G.P." (general purpose vehicle) but in reality that just made Hausmann's campaign a little easier.

3. JEOPARDY, to be in peril, comes from the French iu parti, meaning even chance. It originated as a term in chess (about 1500AD) meaning a situation in which the chances of victory or defeat were equal. The term quickly appeared in many other games. The French version, on English tongues, became the new English word Jeopardy.

4. JOKE, a jest or funny story, entered the English language about 1600 from the Latin jocus, which meant joke.

5. JOURNEY came into English from the French words jour (day) and nee (that which was accomplished). In England, a journey was 20 miles, the distance a healthy adult could walk in one day.

6. JOURNAL came into English from the French words jour (day) and nal (a record). This came into English primarily for use by the Church, which keep records of what was to happen on each day. In that sense, the journal for each day was an hour-by-hour listing of what prayers were to be said or what ceremonies held during that day. This is why the French word "jour" became "hour" in English.

7. JUG was originally the nickname (in 1500) for any (non-noble) woman named Joan or Joanna. (No one knows why, but then, nobody knows why Richard becomes Dick or John becomes Jack or Margaret becomes Peggy.) About the same time, potters became to make an earthenwear vessel the same shape as a pitcher but somewhat larger. For unknown reasons, the nickname jug was applied to this vessel.

8. JUGGERNAUT, a huge irresistible monster or machine, comes from the Hindu god Jaggannath. The word came to English because travelers observed the spectacle of the annual pilgrimage of the statue of the god from his temple to his summer house (about a mile away) and (a few months later) his return. The 35-foot-tall statue is moved on a cart 30 feet square with 16 wheels. Moving this massive thing that far takes several days and is accompanied by no end of celebrations and festivals and ceremonies. The term juggernaut applies more to the assemblage (statue, cart, thousands of worshippers pulling on the ropes) than to the god himself. One traveler saw a worshipper accidentally fall under the wheels and be crushed, and this became (through exaggeration) endless tales of hundreds of such worshippers throwing themselves under the wheels. (That never happened.)

9. JUNE, the sixth month of our years (fourth month of the original Roman calendar) was named for Lucius Junius Brutus, the first Roman to hold the office of Consul. He defeated the last of the Tarquin Kings in 510BC.

10. JUNKET, a trip taken for political reasons, comes from the French word jonquet, a woven basket used to carry fish. Since the basket wasn't used for that very often, it came to be used for anything from making cheese to carrying your lunch to work. It eventually evolved into the current picnic basket, and from there into a pleasurable journey, and from that into a pleasurable journey at the expense of the taxpayers.