Obdormio.com Unwasted Hours

10 September, 2012

Words, Words, Words: Endling

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , — Obdormio @ 00:00

During a random wiki walk yesterday, I stumbled upon a word I’d never heard before: endling – the last living member of a species.

This is possibly the saddest single word I have ever heard. I don’t think there’s any need to explain the etymology on this one – it’s the end, with a sad little diminutive tacked on. It’s both poetic and childish and tragic. At the same time, it’s a great example of how language can be so cool sometimes.

See, obviously I know that there are species on the verge of extinction, and that in some cases there is only one member left, and this is sad. When they have names like Lonesome George, it gets sadder. But when you name the whole group endlings, well, that’s just utterly heart-breaking. I picture other animals weeping and Find the Lady singing the extinct-song.

And I think that’s a good thing. We should be broken up about this. Look at the picture of the passenger pigeon on wikipedia, and consider that is was the very last of its kind – doesn’t it just extrude sadness? Endling doesn’t appear to be a widely accepted term – it actually kind of looks like it was invented by some wikipedia person. I haven’t found much other use of it, except in a news article that was clearly based strongly on said wikipedia article. I think it should see use, though. It makes more of an impact than a longer phrase would.

I’m adding this to my vocabulary – although I hope I won’t have much opportunity to use it in everyday speech. A word as good as this must surely win ground and end up in the dictionaries some day.

9 August, 2012

What is a Obdormio

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , — Obdormio @ 00:00

What up, Filipinos?

I’ve noticed a curious trend in my traffic stats. Once or twice a week, I get a visitor from the Philippines, who arrives at my site through a search related to the meaning or origin of the word obdormio. “Obdormio sentences”, “familiar words of obdormio”, “sentence for obdormio”, “origin of word obdormio”, “history of obdormio” and “what is a obdormio” are all examples of searches that have led people here the last couple of months.

I confess myself afire with curiosity. What is going on in the Philippines to make so many different people search for this? Is there some company using the word in advertising? Is it a game show or some sort of radio contest with prizes involved? Are the Romans secretly invading? I have tried some googling myself to see if I can find any answer, but the only results I get are my own website, which is as unhelpful to me as it probably is to the Filipinos. If you are one of the people doing these searches, I would be very grateful if you’d tell me why!

Since there’s apparently a whole demographic here, the least I could do is try to give an answer to the question they appear to be asking. Obdormio is a Latin word. It means “I fall asleep”. Its etymology beyond that, I do not know; that seems like something you’d need specialised Latin scholarly dictionaries to find. Wiktionary has a whole list of conjugated forms, should you be interested in those. That’s really all I can tell you about the word.

As for my own history with the word, I have used it as a handle on the Internet for quite some time now. The earliest use by me I can document is registering my Gmail account back in May of 2004, but I am fairly sure I had already been using it elsewhere for some time then. I cannot recall exactly when I started using it. I do remember sitting up trying to think of a good handle, late at night, and feeling very tired, and finally just putting “sleep” into some skeezy translator. While using a verb as a noun is a bit dodgy, I suppose, I feel it has served me well so far. This domain, obdormio.com, I have had since registering it in 2006. Or possibly the very end of 2005; I’d have to look it up.

There are some other Obdormios out there, which I have nothing to do with at all. That’s what you get when you pick a name from a dictionary, I suppose. It does irk me a very tiny bit, but as I don’t really have a case here I try not to think about it. I’ll not name them here, for fear of creating some illusion of affiliation, but I’m sure you’ll find them easily enough if you want. I don’t think any of them have much information about the etymology of the word on hand either. I should, perhaps, seek out a unique identity – or at least a somewhat more distinctive one – but I honestly doubt I’d manage to find anything that has never or will never be used elsewhere, so I’ll stick with what I have for now.

So, Filipinos, did that help at all? Is some of that what you were looking for? Why are you looking in the first place? Please do tell me, or you will doom me to live through life in slightly annoying ignorance.

7 June, 2012

Words, Words, Words: Cop-Out

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , — Obdormio @ 00:00

Now, hopefully, this post won’t actually be a cop-out, because that seems excessively self-referential. After my last post on etymology, I’ve started paying a bit more attention to words and phrases in the hopes of mining them for content, and I’ve started to wonder about cop-out. What is being said here? Are cops widely known for phoning it in? And, slightly related, why is cop slang for police in the first place?

To the Internet!

I’m going to start with cop, clinging to the no doubt erroneous belief that the two terms are so closely related. The Online Etymology Dictionary is, as usual, my friend. The noun cop, in the meaning policeman, is attested in 1859, as an abbreviated form of the earlier copper, which is found from 1846. Copper ultimately comes from the verb cop (which incidentally means that the word went from cop to copper and back to cop again – language is fun!). The verb cop hails from the 18th century, where it began life in a dialect in northern England – which is, of course, the best kind of England – meaning “to seize, to catch”. The OE (which, for obvious reasons, foregoes the D) gives two possible further origins – it is either Romance, through French caper from Latin capere, “to take”; or Germanic, from Old Frisian capia, “to buy”, via the Dutch kapen.

Wiktionary also gives these two possible origins, but skips the northern dialect bit. Any explanation that includes northern England is obviously superior to any explanation that doesn’t, so I think I’ll trust the OE.

And now we get to cop-out, which also originates in the verb cop. Cop-out is American slang, attested from 1942. OE thinks that it comes from a variation of cop a plea, which again springs from the northern English verb cop.

So, it goes “catch” -> “take the lesser charge” -> “sneak off, escape” -> “inadequate performance or the poor excuse for it”. Cop goes “catch” -> “person who catches criminals”, which when put like that, doesn’t really seem like much. Still, though, now I know that the fact that I associate policemen with shoddy work is purely due to a linguistic coincidence.

19 April, 2012

Words, Words, Words: Siren

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , — Obdormio @ 00:00

Picture a siren.

Now, chances are that you’re imagining one of these two things:

"The Siren" by John William Waterhouse

Possibly more mermaidish.

Fire engine siren.

Probably also involving an auditory dimension.

Those are certainly the two things I associate with the word “siren”: Pretty women luring Greek sailors to their deaths, and loud noise makers heralding the arrival of emergency services. Because this is the way my mind works, I suddenly started wondering yesterday how that word came to mean both.

I mean, obviously the mythological sirens came first, but how did the concept of evil temptress women singing an irresistibly beautiful song develop into the word for obnoxious and penetrating howls of hideous noise? Speculating wildly, it might have something to do with the idea of a sound that cannot be ignored, that demands attention and reaction, but that seems a bit high concept for a common word.

Of course, words change meanings in weird ways all the time, and diving into the etymologies of  the most innocent terms can lead to some amusing discoveries, but this one seems so strange to me because we still have the original meaning with us. Maybe it’s not the everyday usage, but I think most people will have heard of the sirens Odysseus escaped. Time for some cursory research.

The sirens of mythology, which incidentally are the main “Siren” article on wikipedia, were female creatures with hypnotic voices who got their jollies by tricking sailors into wrecking their ships. As in the painting above, they then presumably had a good laugh while the sailors drowned. They’re often depicted as mermaids or other sea-dwelling creatures, but in the original tale they were women living on an island, not in the sea itself.

What of the noisy siren, then? Where did that get its name? Wikipedia’s article, this time under “Siren (noisemaker)” claims that the first sirens were used as musical instruments, and the first model to be given the name, from 1819, got it because it “could produce sound under water, suggesting a link with the sirens of Greek mythology”. Ah, see, now it all makes sense. It was made for music, and the mythological sirens made music. The noisy version must have come much later. As for the underwater part, it would hardly be the first time something was named based on a misunderstanding of source material.

The Online Etymology Dictionary (what, you haven’t added that as a custom search in your browser?) says that the first recorded use of “siren” to mean “device that makes a warning sound” comes in 1879, sixty years after the instrument version, so it apparently took people a while to realise that this maybe wasn’t the best sound to listen to for fun. Or maybe it was?


Powered by WordPress