By Contributing Writer, Terry Pettee
I am an amateur Etymologist.
Isn’t that a highfalutin sounding moniker?
Let’s play Jeopardy. I mean the TV game show – Jeopardy. Here is how it works. I give you the clue and you come up with an answer in the form of a question. But before you read the correct Jeopardy answer, you have to close your eyes and hum the Jeopardy tune.
Here we go.
The Clue: Comprised of two Greek words it is the academic search for the origin and meaning of words.
No peeking just hum.
The Answer: What is Etymology?
If you did not get the right answer, welcome to the club. I am a Jeopardy fan from way back. And I mean way back, like when Alex Trebek had a permed-doo and dark mustache. Even after all these years of Jeopardy watching, I still only get the right answer one time out of ten.
I suspect you may not be curious about the two Greek words comprising Etymologist. To satisfy the few who are curious, Etymon is ancient Greek for the sense of a word. An ology is a subject of study or a branch of knowledge.
There has to be a punch-line using that old adage, ‘It’s all Greek to me.’ but I am trying to discipline myself against meandering hither and yon when I write.
I just had a thought. If you can come up with punch-line, enter it into the comment section below, along with your name and I promise it will be the subject of a future feature article.
As an amateur Etymologist I researched that word highfalutin. Here’s a knee-slapper. The origin of the word is unknown but according to a couple of dictionaries there are three common misspellings. They are highfaluting [g on the end], high–falutin [hyphenated] and highfalutin [omitting the gh].
How can there be a misspelling of word that was colloquially created?
The origin of highfalutin is not certain. Etymologist do know it first appeared on the scene in the 1830s and speculate that the falutin part refers to playing a flute. Roughly translated it means, blowing your own horn or showing off.
I think I first heard the word highfalutin as a line in the song, Rag Time Cowboy Joe. Maybe you remember that part of the song. It went like this;
Because the Western folks all know
He’s a high-falutin’, rootin’, shootin’,
Son of a gun from Arizona,
Ragtime Cowboy Joe.
As an amateur Etymologist, I have to tell you lyricist Grant Clarke got it wrong back in 1912. Highfalutin is not hyphenated and there is no apostrophe at the end. If you think I am just showing off my voluminous knowledge, you are right, I am.
My interest in words goes beyond their origins and meanings. I bet you remember this adage from your childhood.
“Sticks and stones may break your bones,
but names will never hurt you.”
Whoever penned that adage did not have a very good grasp of child psychology. Names and words do hurt, they even hurt adults. Cruel, hateful, untruthful, bigoted words hurt. I can also say, as an amateur Etymologist and an ardent Christian, I am offended by many profane words.
James the brother of Jesus made an insightful observation about words.
“The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body.
It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire…”
I would rather use words that mend a fence or build a bridge than words that slice to the heart.
One need not be an Etymologist or a Christian to know the difference between building up and tearing down. The choice of our words can extinguish a fire or fan the flames. Flames scar, burn and bring pain.
Etymologically speaking, I would rather be refreshing water rather than volatile gasoline.
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Terry Pettee is a graduate of Eastern Michigan University where his undergraduate study prepared him for a career in secondary education. Prior to attending EMU, he was Editor-In-Chief of the Erie Square Gazette while a student at the St. Clair County Community College. Between his community college and university years he was Marysville Editor of the St. Clair County Independent Press where he was a newspaper reporter and columnist. After a brief teaching stint his life’s journey led him into human resource and industrial relations management; a career spanning four decades. Now retired, Terry writes both Christian value based fiction and non-fiction for his own amusement, which is babble-speak for saying he has only a single published book to his credit.