Etymology of Villain

villain: a character in a story, movie, etc., who does bad things
Merriam-Webster

I’ve been on a major Shakespeare kick lately. One thing I noticed in my devouring of his plays is how many times the bard used the word villain. I mean, it’s a lot. If you turned it into a drinking game, taking a sip every time he used it (which you shouldn’t do because that’s dangerous), you’d in a sad state by act II.

This got me thinking about the etymology of villain. By its spelling, I assumed it came from French (it does), but I didn’t expect it would have much of a story after that. I was wrong. The Online Etymology Dictionary gave me the details.

Villain comes from the Old French word vilain, which does not mean “a bad guy in a cape lurking in the shadows.” It originally meant, in the twelfth century, a “peasant, farmer, commoner, churl, yokel.” In other words, a villain was just a regular guy who was unfamiliar with the trappings of high society.

Before Old French, villain had roots in the Medieval Latin villanus, meaning “farmhand.” Before that was the Latin villa, meaning “country house, farm.”

So, is it really so bad to be a villain? Shakespeare still thought so:

O villain, villain, smiling, damned villain!
My tables—meet it is I set it down,
That one may smile, and smile, and be a villain.
Hamlet: Act 1, Scene 5

 

Erin Servais is the founder of Dot and Dash, LLC, an author-services company focusing on women writers and offering a range of book editing, author coaching, and social media packages.

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Solstice Etymology

Today is the summer solstice, the day that starts the summer season, which also happens to be the day in which we have the most hours of sunlight. Merriam-Webster defines solstice as: one of the two points on the ecliptic at which its distance from the celestial equator is greatest and which is reached by the sun each year about June 22nd and December 22nd.

So, basically, what I said before. (Way to complicate things, M-W.)

Etymology
English adopted solstice from the Old French word of the same spelling. The word originally came from Latin as a combination of sol, which means sun, and sistere, which means “to come to a stop.” Related is the Latin word solstitium, which means “point at which the sun seems to stand still.” (Much thanks to the Online Etymology Dictionary for that information.)

 

Erin Servais is the founder of Dot and Dash, LLC, an author-services company focusing on women writers and offering a range of editing, coaching, and social media packages.

Sign up for the Dot and Dash newsletter to get writing tips and tricks and exclusive deals.  

Follow Dot and Dash on social media.
Twitter: @GrammarParty
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What decimate really means

If you are reading this from your underground doomsday bunker, I thank you for taking the time from your end-of-the-world preparations to read my humble blog. Yes, today is the day some people decided the ancient Mayans predicted would be the end of the world. So, in the spirit of all things apocalyptic, I thought we should talk about epic disasters—more specifically, the word decimate.

What do you think when you hear the word decimate? Bridge-swallowing earthquakes? Nuclear wastelands? Robot overlords?

Decimate has come to mean near-total destruction, but that’s not the technical definition of the word. Decimate comes from the Latin word decem, which means ten. Thus, decimate means to reduce something by a tenth. Merriam-Webster lists the first definition of decimate as: “to select by lot and kill every tenth man of.”

Destroying a tenth of something is still some serious carnage, but I doubt it matches the type of destruction most people now identify with the word. However, that’s okay. The meaning has changed over time, where it now can mean anything from a storm knocking down every tenth tree to robot overlords exterminating all of humankind.

And just in case this is my last post, I’ll leave you with this—an introduction to your new leaders. Good luck in the apocalypse, suckers.

What does “prn” mean?

At my recent doctor’s appointment, she said, “You’ll just take this prn.” (She pronounced each letter: P-R-N.)

“What does that mean?” I asked.

“It means you’re supposed to take it as needed.”

Suspecting it was a Latin abbreviation, since we were in a medical setting, I asked her what the full-length Latin word/phrase was. She was unsure. She said she was just used to seeing it in the abbreviated form.

So, dear friends, I did an investigation. It took me perhaps twenty seconds, but still, it was an investigation nonetheless.

Prn is short for the Latin phrase “pro re nata.” The doctor was correct in that it means “for an occasion that has arisen; as needed.

Now you know.

 

 

Squeezing blackheads out of kitty’s face

Postcard reads: “Are you in the jam, dearie?” “No! Mother, I’m just squeezing blackheads out of kitty’s face.”

I found this antique postcard (I think it’s from the 1930s) at an estate sale a couple months ago. I had to get it because . . . it’s just so weird. Why would someone make a postcard like this? And, what kind of person would actually send it to someone?

Then I got to wondering whether there is another meaning of blackhead that I didn’t know. Certainly, I thought, there couldn’t be a big market in the 1930s (or any time, I hope) for cards about facial secretions.

Merriam-Webster’s first definition of blackhead is: any of various birds with more or less black about the head.

It gives the example of a scaup duck, which looks like this:

Webster’s (unabridged online) gives the second definition as: comedo. This is where I learned way more than I wanted to about facial blemishes. Comedo is the proper term for blackhead. Webster’s describes comedo as: a collection of dead cells and oily secretion that plugs a hair follicle and duct of an oil gland and is usually covered with a black dot.

Because I know you want to know more about comedo, here is the Online Etymology Dictionary’s explanation of the origin of comedo: Comedo in Latin means “glutton,” which comes from the Latin comedere, which means “to eat up.” Comedere is an old name for worms that “devour the body.” It came to be used in a medical sense because it was thought that blackheads resemble these worms.

Yeah, gross. But where does this leave us with our creepy postcard?

I hope the blackheads the child mentions refer to “birds with more or less black about the head.” Otherwise, if the child means the other sense, that’s just disgusting.