Is etymology fun?

Etymology of "mother" from "The Story of Mankind" by Hendrik van Loon (PD-EXP)

Etymology of “mother” from “The Story of Mankind” by Hendrik van Loon (PD-EXP)

I think etymology, the study of the history of words, is fun. That is probably only because I don’t have to study words. I am just curious about some words, when I suddenly have a question about one.

If you are reading this, you probably know the feeling and also probably recognize the similarity of some words that suggest they are related. For example: ship and skiff are both boats, although they now refer to very different types of vessels. Both words go back to a proto-Germanic root, skipam. Yeah, but you may ask: skiff, skipam, but with FF instead of P; and ship, with the P but with SH instead of SK?

English is a Germanic language, since 1066 heavily influenced by French, by William the Conqueror and his Normans (who were descendants of Vikings, north men). The Norwegians, the people in living up the north way, call themselves nordmann, and call a boat a skib.

The shift from P to B is easy to understand; we are all a little sloppy about pronouncing the end of words. An F is just a little sloppier: P > B > F.

Baby-talk for baby in the Deep South leads parents to calling a boy Bubba or Buffy, or at least it did decades ago. I knew grown men who were still called Bubba and Buffy, and not just by their parents.

In the same way, SH is easier to pronounce than SK, especially when followed by an I. Other languages also use the softer “fricative” SH or a fricative G in such words (e.g., “Gibraltar”).

So, ship and skiff have the same root. Early German had two shifts in the pronunciation of consonants. Some of them influenced English pronunciation, some didn’t, because the early pronunciation from the Vikings was already so well established. We say egg, for that reason, instead of the later German Ei, that lets us recognize that the G has slipped away, maybe once a fricative G, and then lost. Who always pronounces the G at the end of word ending in -ing?

Americans still say school and schedule with an SK. The Brits say shedule because the German-born Queen Victoria read and pronounced the SCH of schedule as it would be in German. At court and elsewhere that became the standard.

One can read a lot more about etymology on Wikipedia, if one is interested. For me, more fun is discovering the original meanings of words. The Online Etymology Dictionary is my favorite source, but it does not answer some of my questions.

We know about ship and skiff now, but what about ship (Schiff in German) and fish (German Fisch, fisk in the Scandinavian languages)? There must be a reason why the words for something in or on water are so closely related. It doesn’t seem so. The root for fish is the Latin pisces. We see the consonant shifts.

Does that suggest that fun descended from pun? It didn’t.

What about words that sound alike (homonyms) but mean the opposite, for example cleave?

Most of us immediately think of what a cleaver can do, separate something, then only remember the Biblical usage, oft heard at weddings, Genesis 2, 24:

“Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.”

The words were not originally identical, but as explained here the changes in pronunciation and conjugation have led to to their being identical, just not in meaning, which is why the Biblical use of the word is now only heard in churches.

And what do creases in trousers and skirts have to do with the creases on an ice hockey rink, a hockey and lacrosse field, or a cricket pitch? Douglas Harper, who honchos etymonline.com didn’t tell me, justifiably so, since his definition is correct but didn’t answer my question. Another website does: originally the cricketing crease was a crease-like cut in the turf.

Two other pairs of words in English and German that mean the same thing intrigue me: pan and Napf, pot and Topf. Like with fish and Schiff, I want to see a connection, but haven’t found one. Maybe a lot of people back then suffered from dyslexia.

That kind of an explanation is a wild form of false etymology. If I could popularize it, it would become an urban legend.

This is sometimes called folk etymology, but linguists use that term in a specific sense, as explained with many examples on Wikipedia.

I hope this explains why I think etymology is fun and suggests to others to look into the background of words, but I am only a sophomore of the subject. Strange, I just learned something new: that word also is an example of folk etymology.

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Stoning: why does it exist?

Stoning of St Stephan by Nicolas Fontaine (PD-EXP)

Stoning of St Stephan by Nicolas Fontaine (PD-EXP)

This article is about the historical background behind stoning as a form of execution. It is not an apologia for the practice. I am absolutely not a supporter of stoning or other forms of capital punishment, but it is interesting to try to understand why it exists.

These days, stoning is often assumed to be a prescribed in the Qur’an, since it still exists in Muslim countries, letting people believe that it originated at that time. This is not true, as we know from the Bible. Six hundred years earlier, when the crowd wanted to stone an adulteress, Jesus said: “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.” No one did. The Qur’an, itself, does not mention stoning; it is mentioned in the “Hadiths,” texts recording interpretations of the Qur’an by Mohammed and other early Muslim leaders, which became the basis of Sharia Law.

Stoning predates historical sources, prescribed in the Old Testament, and not just for adultery and similar offenses. These were crimes that impinged on the religious and societal integrity of the community. Society was strongly based on family, much more so than today, although it is still said that the family is the basic unit of society. Judaism and – later – Islam were and are the unifying identity of those societies. Falling away from the established religious belief, apostasy, was also a threat to the integrity of the society.

Such offenses called for a common, group response to demonstrate the society’s abomination and its acceptance of the law. Stoning allowed this; only the group executed the offender: not the first stone, not the last stone. No person had to feel individually responsible. Probably the same denial of individual responsibility is felt by members of a lynch mob.

Lynch mobs are just the least formal example of this denial of individual responsibility for an execution. Julius Caesar was murdered by a group. Oliver Cromwell‘s execution was signed in many copies for each of the signers to allow them to prove that they were just one of many. Execution by firing squad, with one rifle loaded with a blank, allows each member of the squad to believe that he is not responsible.

Without doubt, there have been stonings that were a mob’s reaction, but Sharia, based on Hadiths, calls for four witnesses of adultery, Four witnesses, women only counting as half of one, i.e, needing two for one man’s, suggests that the adultery had to be pretty blatant, less easily attested to by a wife and her friends. The testimony of a spouse alone would be accepted if he or she swore four times by Allah that she or he is telling the truth, plus a swearing a fifth time to invoke condemnation if lying. If the accused, however swears four times that the spouse is lying, also swearing to invoke condemnation, the accused will be considered innocent.

Iranian law is quite detailed about stonings, requiring a court case. If the accused is found guilty, the accuser must throw the first stone, and one that hurts. The judge must also throw a stone, both demonstrating their personal conviction that the sentence is “justified.” If the accused can escape from being half buried and admits to the crime, the sentence is commuted to flogging. This suggests that the law reflects ancient practice, allowing the culprit to escape if she or he can, fleeing into exile, no longer a threat to the community’s mores or religious beliefs.

St. Stephan, the first Christian martyr, was stoned to death for blasphemy against the Jewish religion.

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What are some statistics on the number of registered nurses in the United States?

Nurses of the Elliot City Hospital (photo from Keene Public Library - NKCR)

Nurses of the Elliot City Hospital (photo from Keene Public Library – NKCR)

How many registered nurses are there in the United States?

According to the American Nurses Association, they are 3.1 million licensed registered nurses (RNs) in the U.S. (1)

The latest data from the BLS Occupational Outlook Handbook 2014-15, states that registered nurses held 2,711,500 jobs in 2012. (2)

Where do they work?

  • Hospitals; state, local, and private          61%
  • Nursing and residential care facilities       7%
  • Offices of physicians                                 7%
  • Home health care services                        6%
  • Government                                               6%    (3)

The median annual wage for registered nurses was $65,470 in May 2012. (4)

Employment of registered nurses is projected to grow 19 percent from 2012 to 2022. (5)

Previous Years

Number of Jobs, 2010    2,655,020 (6)
Number of Jobs, 2009    2,583,770 (7)
Number of Jobs, 2008    2,542,760 (8)
Number of Jobs, 2007    2,468,340 (9)
Number of Jobs, 2006    2,417,150 (10)
Number of Jobs, 2005    2,368,070 (11)
Number of Jobs, 2004    2,311,970  (12)
Number of Jobs, 2003    2,246,430  (13)

Additional information and statistics:

(1)   http://nursingworld.org/NursingbytheNumbersFactSheet
(2)   http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/registered-nurses.htm
(3)   http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/registered-nurses.htm#tab-3
(4)   http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/registered-nurses.htm#tab-5
(5)   http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/registered-nurses.htm#tab-6
(6)   http://www.bls.gov/oes/2010/may/oes291111.htm
(7)   http://www.bls.gov/oes/2009/may/oes291111.htm
(8)   http://www.bls.gov/oes/2008/may/oes291111.htm
(9)   http://www.bls.gov/oes/2007/may/oes291111.htm
(10)  http://www.bls.gov/oes/2006/may/oes291111.htm
(11)  http://www.bls.gov/oes/2005/may/oes291111.htm
(12)  http://www.bls.gov/oes/2004/may/oes291111.htm
(13)  http://www.bls.gov/oes/2003/may/oes291111.htm


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How do I Find Dead, Cached and Archived Websites and Screenshots when Wayback doesn’t have them?

How far back do you want to go? (Wikimedia image, CC-BY)

How far back do you want to go? (Photo of Ron Lynch by Sgerbic, CC-BY)

You know about the Internet Archive already, affectionately nicknamed the Wayback Machine. It’s a sort of wonderful, sort of miserable resource with an enormous amount of old content, an enourmous amount of stuff that you wish was there, but isn’t, and an enormous amount that deceptively appears to be available except it’s not, all explored through a convenient but slow and cumbersome interface. Nevertheless, when you’re looking for old content, the Internet Archive is certainly your first stop.

But when Wayback doesn’t have what you need, there are a number of sites you can turn to for individual web pages, complete websites and collections of screenshots from times past. Some of the material is from years ago, some of it is only a few days or weeks old, but all of it lets you take a peek into the Internet’s past.

Archive.is has content as far back as 2012 and as recent as yesterday. Make sure you use the “I want to search…” box, lower down on the page. The upper box, “I want to archive…” allows you to save a copy of a live page, in case you, e.g., need proof one day of the sale price on that nifty tablet you have in mind.

If, for some odd reason, you want to find old online advertisments, moat.co specializes in archived ads, going back at least to 2010, and maybe further. So, if you’re pining after the buxomy lass in that old World of Warcraft ad you haven’t seen  in years, this is the place.

Screenshots shows you, umm, screenshots going back to 2004 or so. No active links, but a complete image of what a site used to look like. I’d gladly show you an old Uclue, but it looks an awful lot like the new Uclue. Screenshots also provides a nice little site history, based on Whois information.

There are a few country-specific archive collections for Denmark, the UK, a small collection for the Czech Republic, and some sizable collections for Australia, Portugal and New Zealand.

Memento Time Travel is a Google Chrome extension that lets you right-click on a site and pull up an historical version close to the date you provide. Think of it as an archive aggregator, looking through several sites (including Wayback) to find an archived page closest to your specified date.

One last thing to mention…even though I don’t quite understand it…is Coral Cache. You can access a Coral Cache of a webpage simply by adding .nyud.net to the end of a URL, like example.com.nyud.net  Really! No kidding!  The page pulled up is sometimes up-to-date, sometimes a few hours old. You can read more about Coral Cache if the spirit moves you.

Enjoy your explorations of Internet history.

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Is a mule what you think it is?

Mule style shoes (photo by Stepheye - CC-BY)

Mule style shoes (photo by Stepheye – CC-BY)

If you think a mule is every hybrid offspring of a horse and a donkey, you are only partly correct.

If you now remember that some shoes (usually women’s) are also called mules, congratulations, but that only demonstrates that a mule can be different things.

First the shoes: the name comes via French from ancient Latin, mulleus calceus, red or purple shoes worn by the three highest magistrates. One could speculate that the previous pope’s preference for red loafers suggests that he knew this. The significant thing about women’s mules is that they are open backed, easy to slip in and out of, perhaps why they became associated with prostitutes by the beginning of the 20th century. (That may also have allowed them to drag their heels on the paving stones to call attention to themselves. An expert on Japanese women’s wear has explained that prostitutes there wore wooden clogs of a design or wood that gave the sound of their steps a special quality.)

The name of that hybrid, hoofed animal also comes from Latin, mulus. They have been around for thousands of years, and the list of languages on Wikipedia for the topic suggests that mules are common around the world.

Every hybrid of a horse and donkey is not, however, a mule. Mules are the offspring of a male donkey and a mare, the most usual combination. The offspring of stallion with a female donkey is properly called a hinny. That term is also from Latin, hinnus, from Greek innos or ginnos.

If you are a Geordie, you are excused for thinking “hinny” is only a term of endearment for a woman, “honey,” certainly not thinking of her in the non-dialectic meaning of the word.

A mule can be other things: to describe infertile plants, also hybrid ones, also other hybrid animals. Mules are always infertile, but there have been a very few reports over the centuries that female hinnies have had offspring.

We’ll forget the slang description of a stubborn person as a mule or donkey; it maligns both animals, but it has become an expression for a courier/smuggler of illicit substances, for example a money mule.

There is or was also a “spinning mule,” a 18th century invention that
both drew and spun yarns, combining two earlier inventions to draw and spin yarns.

In numismatics, a mule is a coin whose obverse and reverse don’t agree. It is also a term for the foot of a wine glass, and also for a locomotive that replaced mules in towing canal boats.

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What are some statistics about the pawn shop industry in the United States?

Pawn Shop neon lights (photo by Monik Markus - CC-BY)

Pawn Shop neon lights (photo by Monik Markus – CC-BY)

How many pawn shops are there in the United States?

There are over 11,000 pawn shops in the United States. (1)

There were 6,400 pawn shops in 2007. (2)

What is the size of the U.S. pawn shop market?

The Pawn Shop industry was worth $14.5 billion in 2011 and $15.57 billion in 2012.

The Pawn Shop business will be worth $19.88 billion by 2016 (6.3% average growth).

The average pawn shop loan was $100 in 2009

The average pawn shop loan was $180 in 2008


Top Three Pawn Shop Chains (20% of the market)

Cash America  -  $1.54 billion (2011)
EZCorp  -  $869 million
First Cash Financial  -  $521 million


“Jewelry sales represent a significant share of most  pawnbrokers total receipts, with the remaining sales coming primarily from consumer electronics, tools, sporting goods and musical instruments. 50% of revenues come from pawn loans and 50% from merchandise sales. The average pawn shop grosses anywhere from $400,000 to $1.5 million.” (1)

Typical Pawnshop Inventory

Jewelry  -  50%

Consumer Electronics  -  20%

Firearms  -  10%

Tools  -  10%

Miscellaneous items  -  10% (3)

Demographics of the Average Pawn Shop Customer

Age: 36
Household Income: $29,000
80% are employed
82% have high school diploma or GED
33% are homeowners
National Average Loan Amount: $150 (4)

Over 85 percent of all pawn loans are repaid  (5)

PawnFyNdR is a pawn shop locator
. Search by ZIP code or by city and state.

(1) PR Web
(2) Times Free Press
(3) CompuPawn
(4) Pawn Shops Today
(5) National Pawnbrokers Association

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