Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Some Word Origins


I received an email from Charlie Z, as follows: 

Otto - you probably know this --- where did the term "Making ends meet" come from? 

Byter Charlie 

It’s been a while sine we had a look at word origins so . . . 
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Making ends meet: 

Meaning: 

To earn or have enough money to live on without getting into debt. 

Origin: 

Explanation 1: 

The expression is first recorded in The History of the Worthies of England (1662), by the Church of England clergyman Thomas Fuller (1607/8-61). Fuller was writing about the English Protestant leader Edmund Grindal (1519-83), saying: “Worldly wealth he cared not for, desiring onely to ‘make both ends meet’; and as for that little that ‘lapped over’, he gave it to pious uses in both Universities . . .” 

In the above lines, Fuller was quoting an expression already in use. It is believed that its origin is from tailoring or dressmaking, that it refers to the amount of material needed to make a piece of clothing reach round the body, so that its two ends meet. This is what Thomas Fuller seemed to imply with “that little that lapped over” in the words quoted above. 

This explanation is supported by the second- record use of the phrase in A New Dictionary of the Terms Ancient and Modern of the Canting Crew (1699), by “B. E. Gent.”, where it records “Tis good to make both Ends meet, or to cut your Coat according to your Cloth.” 


Explanation 2: 

An alternative explanation suggests that the ends referred to are the ends of each year, the beginning and end. The word “meet” in this context means to agree or tally, therefore making ends meet, tallying the beginning and end of the year, means s to keep one’s finances, income and expenditure, in balance throughout the year. 

Those two explanations are not mutually exclusive: the two earliest attestations seem to indicate that the original image was the amount of cloth necessary to make a garment reach round the body, while the later uses seem to show that the phrase was reinterpreted as referring to bookkeeping. 

Some etymologists are of the opinion that the original meaning of the amount of cloth necessary to make a garment reach round the body was reinterpreted later as referring to bookkeeping. 

Explanation 3: 

The expression may also refer to the ends of rope meeting, signifying continuity and therefore security and stability. By extension, it was later applied to making money last from one pay period to the next (the ends), so leaving no gap or break in the availability of funds 

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Protest: 

The word protest dates from about 1400, coming from the Old French “preotester” and the Latin “protestari” where it meant to declare publicly, to testify, “pro” meaning in front of, forward, and “testari” being from the same source as “testify”, meaning to witness. The word survives today with this meaning in the expression to protest one’s innocence. 

The word underwent a meaning shift, the first recorded usage in the sense of a statement of disapproval being recorded in 1751. 

The term “protest march” was first used in 1913 to describe the march that Gandhi organized to protest the restrictions that had been imposed on the Indian population of South Africa -- the first massive civil disobedience campaign. 



By the 1930’s people were using phrases like "the literature of protest" and "social protest" to suggest the whole range of progressive agitation, but it became mainstream with the civil rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s. 

In the 1950s protest marches were used in support of the Ban the Bomb campaigns. 

A huge crowd, mostly women sheltered under their umbrellas in Trafalgar square, London on May 12, 1957, at a mass meeting of the national council for the abolition of nuclear weapon tests. The rally was organized as a women’s protest march against H-bomb tests from Hyde Park to Trafalgar square. 

The Australian and Swedish contingents in the anti-H bomb march from the Atomic Weapons Research Establishment at Aldermaston, Berkshire, to London. Tens of thousands of people marked the end of the Aldermaston “ban the bomb” march with a rally in central London, when around 60,000 protesters gathered at Trafalgar Square (although organisers claimed the crowds numbered at least 100,000). This was the largest demonstration London had seen this century. Date: 27/03/1959 
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Demonstration: 

Although it may be tempting to assume that the word demonstrate has a connection with demons, that is not the case. The ‘root’ word of demonstrate, like monstrar (as in modern Spanish) means to show. It has nothing to do with devils. 

Meaning "public show of feeling by a number of persons in support of some political or social cause," at first usually involving a mass meeting and a procession, is from 1839. 
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Boycott: 

Meaning: 

To boycott means to stop buying or using the goods or services of a certain company or country as a protest; the noun boycott is the protest itself. 


During the Irish “Land War” of the late 1800s, a British Captain by the name of Charles Boycott was the land agent of an absentee landlord called Lord Erne in County Mayo, Ireland. In 1880, after a year of bad harvests, Lord Erne – thinking himself a generous man – offered his tenants a 10% reduction in their rents. However, his tenants didn’t think this to be enough of a reduction, so they protested and demanded a 25% reduction. Lord Erne refused this, dispatching his trusty land agent Captain Charles Boycott to evict the revolting tenants. 

Shortly before this happened, a member of the Irish Land League known as Charles Stewart Parnell had proposed dealing with landlords and land agents through a peaceful form of social ostracism, rather than resorting to violence. Parnell proposed those in the local community should simply ignore the offender and conduct no business with them. 

Soon after the news of Charles Boycott’s eviction drives spread, he found himself isolated within the local community. Despite the short-term economic strife it bought them, his workers stopped working in his fields and stables, as well as at his house. Local businessmen stopped trading with him and even the local postman refused to deliver his mail! 

Because of the action taken against him, Boycott was facing financial peril as nobody would take on the job of harvesting his crops. Eventually, he hired 50 men from further out areas to come harvest the crops. He paid for an escort of 1,000 armed policemen and soldiers to bring them to his estate. HHowever, the Irish Land League’s promise of no violence had been 100% genuine as no violent action was taken against Boycott or his hired guns and workers. 

The cost of Boycott’s protection for his harvesters has cost far more than the harvest had been worth, leaving him at a great financial loss. After the harvest, the boycott on Boycott successfully continued. 

It didn’t take long for the press to pick up on the boycott, and within a matter of mere weeks Boycott’s name was everywhere! James Redpath of the New York Tribune was the first person to use the word in international press shortly after the incident, and The Times used the term to describe an organized isolation in November of 1880. By 1881, the term “boycott” was now being used to describe things figuratively, with one article in The Spectator describing how nature had “Boycotted London from Kew to Mile End”. 

Less than a year after the boycott on Boycott, the word was a staple of the English language worldwide. 


Caricature of Charles Boycott by Spy (Leslie Ward). Boycott is shown with a long grey beard, a long nose and a bald head. 

Portrait of Captain Boycott – from The Illustrated London News – 10th July 1897 
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