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Peeping Tom Cried “Mayday!” as he Ate an Avocado at Xmas

As I kept reading Charles Harrington Elster’s book “What in the Word? Wordplay, Word Lore, and Answers to Your Peskiest Questions About Language,” I found myself fascinated by the stories of how certain words or phrases began.

So, here are some more.

Avocado — From the Aztec word ahuacatl, which Spanish conquerors mispronounced as aguacate, which is what the fruit is called today. Other Spanish speakers translated ahuacatl as “avocado.”

Jiffy — It originates from the 1785 book “Baron Munchausen’s Travels” by Rudolph Raspe (other sources call it “Baron Munchausen’s Narrative of his Marvellous Travels and Campaigns in Russia” by Rudolf Erich Raspe), who likely invented the word and used it as a measure of time (“six jiffies”).

Mayday — From the French m’aider, in the phrase venez m’aider, meaning “come help me.” In English m’aider is pronounced “mayday.”

Mind your p’s and q’s — Elster dismisses the notion it means “pints and quarts.” He says no one is really sure what it means, but the most likely answer comes from penmanship. P and Q follow each other in the alphabet, and the lower-case versions are often confused by youngsters just learning how to write them.

Peeping Tom — He was a tailor who bored a hole in his shutter and watched Lady Godiva ride by.

The whole story, from folklore and not literature, has Lady Godiva, wife of Leofric (sometimes spelled Leoffric), Earl of Mercia and Lord of Coventry, riding through town naked (some sources says she wore form-fitting satin) because she cared about her subjects and wanted her husband to stop taxing them so highly, which he said he would do if she rode though the city. She issued a proclamation saying everybody stay inside with the windows and shutters closed while she did this. Tom was severely punished. Some sources say he was killed, others say he was blinded. None of them explain how he was discovered.

Xmas — X is the 23rd letter of the Greek alphabet, chi, and stands for Christ.

Until next time! Use the right words!

July 24, 2018 - Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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