Dog days of summer

 

Things sure are heating up. Even in my home state of Minnesota (where it just stopped snowing two months ago), I have all the fans running full blast. That’s because we’ve officially entered the dog days of summer.

The dog days of summer are known as being the hottest period of the year, running from July 3 to August 11. However, the name has nothing to do with our beloved Fidos.

The name actually comes from Sirius, the brightest star in our sky. Sirius is known as the Dog Star and is the chief star in the constellation Canis Major. Dog days traditionally began when Sirius rose at the same time as sunrise (heliacal rising), causing Romans to attribute the extra heat to the meeting up of the two stars. (Due to shifts in the equinoxes, this is no longer happens, at least if I correctly understood all of the astronomy articles I’ve been reading.)

Etymology
According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, the term dog days comes from the 1530s, when it was known in Latin as dies caniculares, translated from the Greek hēmerai kynades.

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Okay! OK! O.K.! Ok?

You are, no doubt, familiar with OK. These two strung-together letters have made one of the world’s most commonly used words. Today we’re going to learn the origin of this universal term for all right, sure, and fine and which of its various spellings are correct.

Etymology
OK started as a joke. In 1839, it was a trend for newspapers in Boston to use initialisms that represented misspelled phrases. For example, there was K.G., which stood for know go (instead of no go), and N.C., which stood for nuff ced (instead of enough said). This is how OK entered the language. Newspapers of the time used it to stand for oll korrect, a jokey version of all correct, funny because the spelling was the opposite of being all correct.

And then came this mutton-chopped fellow:

When President Martin Van Buren was running for reelection in 1840, his fundraising group in New York was named the O.K. Club. In this instance, OK also referenced his nickname Old Kinderhook (which came from his birthplace in the New York village of Kinderhook). Van Buren lost, but the word gained popularity.

Spellings of OK
OK was originally spelled with periods, looking like this: O.K. Today, it is more common to see it spelled as OK (without the periods) and okay. If you look it up in the dictionary, you will see either OK and okay listed as correct spellings of the word or all three versions: O.K., OK, and okay.

Style guidelines are largely fuzzy on the issue of one preferred spelling. For instance, The Chicago Manual of Style doesn’t even acknowledge the issue. However, The Associated Press Stylebook lists OK as the preferred spelling. The most important point is to pick one spelling and stick with it throughout your writing to maintain consistency.

However, note that spelling the word with lowercase letters (ok) is not, well, OK. I mean okay.

Sources:
American Heritage Dictionary online: http://ahdictionary.com/word/search.html?q=OK&submit.x=0&submit.y=0

Chicago Manual of Style online: http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/qanda/data/faq/topics/YouCouldLookItUp/faq0014.html

Online Etymology Dictionary: http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?allowed_in_frame=0&search=ok&searchmode=none

Teetotaler

“Veteran drudge” of The Baltimore Sun newspaper, John E. McIntyre, recently blogged a list of slang words for being drunk:

schnockered
shellacked
snozzled
soused

Lots of S words, apparently.

But what about slang for the opposite end of the imbibing spectrum?

teetotalism: the principal or practice of complete abstinence from alcoholic drinks
—Merriam-Webster

teetotaler: one who practices or advocates teetotalism
—Merriam-Webster

It’s a common mistake to think that teetotaler has to do with tea—as if one who does not consume alcohol hits up the teakettle instead. Actually, this term dates to the age of temperance societies (groups that pushed for mandatory abstinence from alcohol), with its first citation being in 1834.

As explained in the Online Etymology Dictionary, it is thought that teetotaler comes from the word totally. The tee in the front of the word is the sound of the letter T and was added for emphasis—as if to mean extra totally or totally totally.

Example: That teetotaler is extra totally BO-RING.

Severe weather etymology

I have previously written about the etymology of tsunami. Today we are delving into the history of words for other serious weather systems.

Note: I received all my information from the Online Etymology Dictionary—an amazing, exhaustive resource that I strongly encourage you to check out.

blizzard
The first citation of blizzard comes from 1859, though it gained popularity after a particularly hard winter in the United States during 1880. It is believed that the word is onomatopœic. In addition, in the 1770s, American English used the word blizz to mean a “violent rainstorm.” It came to be used to mean a winter storm thanks to people in the Upper Midwest of the United States.

hurricane
Hurricane entered the English language in the 1550s from the Spanish word huracan. However, it took time (as is usual) for the spelling to become standardized. In the late sixteenth century, there were 39 recorded spellings, including forcane, herrycano, harrycaine, and hurlecane.

tornado
Tornado began in the 1550s, when it meant a “violent, windy thunderstorm.” It probably came from the Spanish word for “thunderstorm,” tronada. Tornado came to mean an “extremely violent whirlwind” in the 1620s.

typhoon
In the 1550s, typhoon in English was spelled tiphon, coming from the Greek word typhon, which means “whirlwind.” During this time, it meant a “violent storm, whirlwind, tornado.” In the 1580s, it took on the meaning of a “cyclone, violent hurricane of India or the China Seas” after a translation of an Italian story of a voyage to the East Indies in which the author encountered a touffon.

Let’s veterinarian this word

Earlier this week, I got an out-of-the blue phone call from a friend calling from his work. He was wondering how to spell vet when used in the sense of methodically considering a person or idea. I’m not perfect and can’t always—gasp—immediately reach into my brain for correct answers. But, I did remember this one, mostly because of the interesting story of how it entered our lexicon. I’m writing about this today because I think you’ll find it pretty darn interesting, too.

First things first, vet used in this sense (or as Merriam-Webster puts it “to subject to usually expert appraisal or correction” and “to evaluate for possible approval or acceptance) is spelled just like the shortening of the word veterinarian, an animal doctor.

This is because we get this meaning of vet from veterinarian. A little surprising, I know. In horse racing, a veterinarian (vet) inspects a horse ahead of time to ensure, among other things, that it is healthy enough to run the race. In the 1860s, this process became known as vetting, related to the vet who was doing the inspecting. (You can find more information about the etymology here and here.)

In the evolution of this word, vet used as “He vetted the horse before the race,” started being used in the same way with ideas and people, as in “He vetted the candidate to ensure she was the right choice.”