Back to my favourite topic—Words and their quaint origins!
CLUE: Comes from an old English word meaning a ball of thread that could help you find your way through a maze. This, is turn, refers to the Greek myth of Theseus who found his way out of the Cretan labyrinth by unravelling a ball of thread. And, from there evolved the use of the word “clue” which refers to hints that help to solve a mystery (or a crossword!).
QUIZ: An invented word. The story goes that in 1780 Richard Daly a Dublin theatre manager made a bet that he would introduce a new word into the language in 24 hours. He sent street urchins to write “Quiz” (a word that he made up) in chalk upon every wall and bare surface in the city, and in a few hours everyone was discussing it. Since no one knew what it meant everyone thought that it was some kind of a test. It came to be used to mean ‘enquiry’.
BLURB: A blurb on the cover of a book may give us a clue about what is in the book. The word blurb was coined in 1907 by American humorist Gelett Burgess. The cover of his 1906 book Are You a Bromide? had the picture of a fictitious Miss Belinda Blurb in the act of “blurbing”, proclaiming “Yes, this is a blurb.” From then on covers of books used to carry text “blurbs” without the picture. The word blurb entered standard English in the 1920s.
BLOCKBUSTER: This was the British name in World War II for a super-large high-explosive bomb capable of destroying large areas. Within a few years of its use in military terminology the word blockbuster was used to describe other powerful things such as sports teams and hail storms. In 1954 the expression block-buster was used to describe movies that grossed over two million dollars. Today blockbuster is generally used for super-hit movies, but also to describe something that is powerful, exciting, immense and successful.
Surprisingly today we say that a movie “bombed” at the box office to mean just the opposite!
CARTOON: This is the age of blockbuster ‘cartoon’ or animated movies. Interestingly the word derives from the Latin charta meaning paper via the Italian form cartone (a big piece of paper). It originally referred, in the Middle Ages, to a preparatory sketch for a tapestry or other artwork. The modern usage emerged in around 1843 when Punch magazine used satirised drawings of the new Victorian Houses of Parliament, and continued to use humorous illustrations in its issues. In the early 20th century, it began to be used to refer to animated films which resembled print cartoons.
IGNORAMUS: This used to be a favourite word of mine when I was in my teens—just liked the sound of it, and had fun using it to describe people! The word has its origins in legalese. Grand Juries in England wrote “ignoramus” on the back of rejected proposals for indictment to mean “we have no knowledge of it.” The implications that they did not wish to hear anything of it may have led to its later use to describe someone who knows nothing of anything.
The more I read about words, the more I discover what an ignoramus I am!