Sunday, July 28, 2013

The Origin of Things

Every time we get together, my brothers and I tend to get hung up on a word or phrase; arguing over the origin and proper use or, more likely, misuse. With today’s smartphones, we can quickly ping the interwebs for an answer usually leading to more chin scratching and the muttering of phrases such as: “Ah yes.  That makes sense” or “Really? It sounds more Russian than French”.  The funny things is that we have no idea what we are talking about, but we like to pretend.

There have been many ……discussions over the years: rife; lineagey; remote; etc.  Tonight the word that caught our interest was smithereens. For some twisted reason the first thing I thought of was Mr. Smithers (I already said we didn’t know what we were talking about).  A quick search led us to a page explaining that Smithereens was Irish in origin and could be based on an old Gaelic word ‘Smiodar’ meaning fragments.  The article had a second origin that I actually prefer; “’smithereens’ … refers to the shards of metal formed when iron is forged and hammered in a smithy.” Unfortunately there aren’t enough sources to support the theory. What followed next was a perfect example of how we like to pretend to be linguists.

The article mentioned that the addition of ‘een’ to the word acted as a diminutive and gave an example: Caile + een = colleen.  According to the all-knowing Wikipedia , diminutives are used to indicate the smallness of the root word.  Smithereens would then be indicating tiny fragments ….. as opposed to larger ones?  Anyway, in our infinite wisdom and bountiful laziness, we didn’t look up the word diminutive.  Instead we took it that diminutive was a tool that make the word feminine.  Following that derailed train of logic FCJ comes up with the quote of the night: “So then, loosely translated, the word 'Smithereens' means fiery flying lady bits?" 


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