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Weird Origins - Interesting Etymologies


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I was looking for something at the office the other day, and someone told me that it might be in the conference room behind the table, in the credenza. Well, of course, I knew what a credenza was. It wasn't the first time I'd heard that word. But for the first time, I wondered how that piece of furniture got its name.

 

I speak some Italian, and I knew that in Italian, credenza means believing, or trusting, or having confidence in something.

It's a cousin of our english word credence. Both come from the Latin word credere, to believe, as in Credo in unum Deum: I believe in one God. In fact, Italian still uses the exact same words, credere and credo, with the same meanings. So now I wondered, how did this piece of furniture come to be called, basically, a Confidence, or a Trust?

 

Naturally, I ran right back to my desk and googled it, and here's the story:

 

In the Middle Ages and Renaissance, being poisoned by one’s enemies was an ever-present danger. As a result, it was customary for members of royal or noble families to have a servant taste their food and drink after it left the kitchen and before it was served. The tasting was done at a dining room sideboard, and the name of the sideboard became credenza in Italian.

 

Which is to say: it was a confidence table, whence food that was tasted and trusted could be taken. In fact, credenza may originally have referred to the act of tasting the food, and only later was applied to the place where the tasting was done. In that case, the most accurate English translation of credenza might be: a tasting table.

 

For more about the credenza, including some good photos, Wikipedia has this article.

 


 

There must be lots of words in English with weird origins. I thought it might be fun to have a post about such words. So if you have a story about such an etymology - or etymologies - please post it here. I would suggest one weird origin story per post, though. It's less chaotic, and it gives people a chance to discuss that word in their replies.

 

 


 

 

 

 

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Well, as long as it's the weekend and the traffic is slow, I'll go ahead and post one more, before I forget it.

 

I recently read an article where someone used the expression make havoc or create havoc or some such construction that grated on my ears - because to me, the word havoc is archaic and is found only in one or two set phrases. Wreak havoc is the most common, but I did recall another that I'd heard: cry havoc, as in Cry havoc, and let slip the dogs of war. That's Shakespeare, from Julius Caesar - although Shakespeare had used the phrase cry havoc in earlier plays too, and always in a military context. How strange, if havoc simply means chaos or disorder. Surely there are occasions other than war for chaos and disorder. So I did a little research.

 

The original phrase is actually French, crier havot, which came to England with the Normans in the form of crier havok. After winning a battle, the French or Norman-French commander might cry havoc, which was the signal that his troops should begin the sack of the conquered town or castle. So havoc was not just any chaos. It was specifically a military riot of looting and pillaging. And notice, it was always the winners who did this. Losers don't loot.

 

In addition to wreak havoc and cry havoc, there is also the set phrase play havoc.

 

And then too, of course, there is June Havoc;)

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@[Gr...]

 

They are interesting, aren't they? Once we know the original meaning of a word and how that meaning grew and changed over time, I think from then on we might use the word differently, more carefully. You never really know a thing until you know its history.

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@[Ad...]

 

Thanks for the clue, Adjusta.

The author, Mark Forsyth, has a blog here: https://blog.inkyfool.com/

and a YouTube channel here: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCJTAspEc83xdD9eNWMf4eEA/

both very interesting and enjoyable. And he's got a ton of other videos on YouTube as well.

This one will show a whole list of others on the side of the page:

He's even got a Twitter channel (or whatever they call a Twitter thing) here:

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