A while back I wrote a piece on the A.Word.A.Day daily email that I get from the Wordsmith folks … I believe it started as the brainchild of Anu Garg and has since expanded to require a half-dozen folks to operate smoothly. The daily post is sometimes ignored but, more often than not, I always enjoy the pithy notes on a single word used in the English language. At times the weekly offerings will be based on a theme of sorts, and recently the mailing include a number of words with a nautical origin. I was so surprised at some of them I wanted to share that week’s words here.
noun: Near future (used in the phrase “in the offing”).
In nautical use, offing is the part of sea visible from the shore, but beyond anchoring ground. From off (away), from of. Earliest documented use: 1600.
This one surprised me; I’d heard (and maybe even used) this one before but the sense I had was less about “near future” than it was about in some nearby but intangible place. The meaning I “knew” is close, but it had more of a location connotation for me than a temporal one. When I look at the etymology, I feel better about my past usage.
verb tr.: To assemble or fix temporarily using whatever is at hand.
On a sailing ship, a jury-mast is a temporary mast, rigged when the original is damaged or lost. From jury (makeshift or temporary), perhaps from Old French ajurie (help). Earliest documented use: 1840.
While I’d used “jury-rig” any number of times in the past, I had no idea this phrase had a nautical origin. Indeed, I likely suspected that it had more to do with loading a courtroom’s jury with a set of people who had a predisposition either for or against someone on trial, thereby “rigging” the outcome. And now I’m just a bit smarter.
noun: A fund established for illegal activities, especially in business and politics.
Originally, a slush fund was money collected to buy small luxuries for a ship’s crew. The fund was raised from the sale of slush (refuse fat) from the ship’s galley. Earliest documented use: 1839.
This was the point I said, “I gotta blog about these words!” I had no clue that “slush fund”, a phrase I often associate with Wall Street and never occurring to me as having salt in its origins, drew from the same stock as some of the other words here. Again, hard to help but feel just a bit more informed.
noun: A miserly person.
Originally, a pinchgut was someone who didn’t give enough food to a ship’s crew. Earliest documented use: 1615.
This word resonates with a 1600s sort of thing you might expect a salty dog to say, but I’m surprised it had a ship-borne origin and wasn’t something more commonly said in those times. Not sure I’ll have a use for this one in my daily vocabulary, but it’ll be there should I need to call on it.
verb tr.: To cast off something regarded as unwanted or burdensome.
noun: The act of discarding something.
Originally, jettison was the act of throwing goods overboard to lighten a ship in distress. From Latin jactare (to throw), frequentative of jacere (to throw). Ultimately from the Indo-European root ye- (to throw), which also gave us jet, eject, project, reject, object, subject, adjective, joist, jactitation, subjacent, and jaculate. Earliest documented use: 1426.
This is a word I knew, coming into my vocabulary around the time I learned of “jetsam” and “flotsam”. Nice to get a word I knew and actually used correctly in the weekly offerings!
And that’s it. I wrote about A.Word.A.Day previously but, on looking back in my archives, I see that it was in 2011, so perhaps a quick refresher or reminder is in order. I still get the daily post and still enjoy them … and you can, too. Just sign up here (Subscribe) or check out the website here (http://wordsmith.org/).
And, as always … enjoy.