Parting words: etymology and expressions

Photo: Flo McQuibban
Now widely known (only at The Saint) as the satire section, this page of Viewpoint has of late been dedicated to lighthearted subjects that appeal to our sense of humour rather than our intelligence and dignity.
For the last issue of this semester, I thought it only appropriate to go full circle and return to something perhaps a little more educational.
As writers, we fumble about to find the most appropriate synonyms, the most accurate descriptions, and the most poignant metaphors for our works. But where do all the words we use come from?
As an aspiring etymologist, I’ve compiled a comprehensive list of some of my favourite word origins for our devoted readers and future writers.
In order to progress to one of my favourite words, we must first begin with “turd”. The word “turd” is a euphemism and insult I hold dear to my heart, as it not only originates from the Old English tord & Proto-
Germanic turdam meaning “piece of excrement”, but also has cognates from Old Norse (tord-yfill) and Dutch
(tort-wevel) meaning “dung beetle”.
Now although “turd” is a perfectly cool word in itself, it’s extra spiffing
because the Proto-Indo-European drtom (past participle root of –der), meaning “to be torn/that which is torn
from the body” comes from the Greek skatos meaning “excrement”, and sker meaning “to cut”.
Now, this is fun because the word “scatological”, unlike the word “turd”, is one you can use when writing a literature essay. Scatological, from skat (skatos) and logy (meaning “treatise”, as many of you might already know) is a word used to describe obscene literature.
You might initially think that this is the kind of word used ironically to describe strange and poorly written
fantasy literature, but it’s actually applicable to some of Chaucer and Shakespeare’s works. For those who
are familiar with The Decameron, instead of saying that Boccaccio implicitly talks about “poopoo” in Story
so-and-so, you can actually be the pedantic little asshole (pun intended) who conspicuously points out that
“falling into a hole filled with excrement is a rather excellent display of scatological humour”.
That being said, clarity shouldn’t always be sacrificed for the sake of grandiosity. Although it would be quite the party, if you said “Skatos!” every time you hit your knee or forgot something, you might find yourself quarantined in your tutorials, not unlike a 17th century plague-stricken boat on its way to a Venetian port. That brings us to another crazy word: malapropism. Now I only find it so crazy because it’s a tricky little pack saddle-son of a word. One would think that it originates from “mal” (from the Latin male meaning “badly”) and “appropriation”, as it means erroneously using a word that sounds like another, but it actually stems from the French mal à propos meaning “inappropriately” or “badly for the purpose”.
It’s then not “appropriation” we are dealing with but “proposal” (i.e. mistakenly proposing a word sounding similar to the correct word, for example “Piracy Policy” instead of “Privacy Policy”). Although mal à propos
dates from the 1660s, malapropism is derived from the name of a character that was coined in 1826 by Sheridan. Mrs. Malaprop in “The Rivals” (1775) consistently uses big words without really knowing their significance (what a pompous crouton.)
This phenomenon has led to some amazing utterances. George W. Bush’s vice president Dan Quayle made sure
to tell people that “Republicans understand the importance of bondage between a mother and child”, which
might be a premonitory statement explaining Trump’s campaign entirely: wrong and with incestuous
undertones. The president himself assured his audience that he would be signing laws to collect vital information on “weapons of mass production”. Although I’m glad Jay Bee is concerned with animal rights and
the environment, I have yet to see any tractors or ploughs be banned.
Finally, even though it is technically not etymology, I’d like to touch on the origins of my favourite rhetorical
device used in unserious debates (or to annoy the skatos out of your friends and family). Not only will this rhetorical device be greatly useful to any Scotsmen, but the name of the person who popularised it is out of this
world. The “if-by-whiskey” argument is a relativist fallacy used in order to avoid ever giving a real opinion.
Judge Noah S. “Soggy” Sweat, Jr., who obviously must hold some sort of award for most ridiculously suave
name ever, was a state representative in Mississippi who gave a speech in 1952 during prohibition about how
he was only in favour of whisky (or alcohol) being legal if it had an awesome connotation. Basically – if you
thought whisky was the devil’s concoction, then Soggy would say that that doesn’t fly. But if you thought
whisky was a top-hole brew, then Soggy was the biggest supporter of a post-work swig.
The expression “if-by-whiskey” was devised because of his repetition of the phrase “If by whiskey, you mean”, followed by an enumeration of negative words, and “If by whiskey, you mean”, followed by an enumeration of positive words. Keep this awesome tactic in mind when you go back home in the summer. Tell a relative of yours that if by laundry-day they mean the unscrupulous task prohibited by God on everyday of the week,
it’s a no-go. But if by laundry-day they mean the task performed by others as a holy homage to the wearer of the linens in question, then by all means, launder away.
These are my parting words to the readership and writers before I go on my year abroad. I hope it sounded as
obnoxious as it did when I read it all in my head. It’s been a pleasure writing for you, Viewpoint & co. Until next


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