Wednesday, 30 September 2009

More Turns of Phrase? My Wheels Are Grinding.

Part of living in a country that developed the language you speak is discovering the origins of words you only thought you knew.  Take, for instance, windfall.  I always knew the term to mean an unexpected bout of good luck.  I happened to be watching a show on Victorian farming (yes, I was that bored) when the lads remarked that cider making that year would be productive thanks to a great windfall.  I consulted my friend Merriam-Webster, the controversial American dictionary that is not Oxford, and was surprised at what I found:


Pronunciation: \ˈwin(d)-ˌfȯl\
Function: noun
Date: 15th century
1 : something (as a tree or fruit) blown down by the wind
2 : an unexpected, unearned, or sudden gain or advantage

Just when I thought I did speak English, I am constantly stumbling upon more unknown words.  I remember having this feeling in first year Spanish when Senorita Sponsler got after a dullard who kept calling his hand (mano) his monkey (mono).  As most amateur linguists are want to do, I am on a quest for meaning.  I can occasionaly connect the dots, but I found a few terms that don't play well, despite their similarities.
Exhibit 1:

This is a scrum.  It is a formation in rugby, so Chumley tells me, although I cannot claim I have ever watched a match for more than thirty seconds intentionally.  I remember it this way: scrums display bums. 

Exhibit 2:

This is scrumpy.  It is a type of hard cider, perhaps made from a windfall, that has a particularly high alcohol content.  Scaled down versions are available in pubs, but the real thing will leave you legless (so I am told.)  If we're trying to connect the mental dots here so far, perhaps people willing to get in the scrum must have ingested a large amount of scrumpy.  So far, so good, except the following problem.

Exhibit 3:

The above cupcakes could be described as "scrummy."  Do you hear the linguistic needle scratch the record in your head?  My first guess at the meaning of "scrummy" would have been "of or like the rugby scrum; displaying a predisposition to mob action in a rugby-like manner."  But no.  Scrummy apparently is a truncated form of "scrumptious" and "yummy," and is commonly used to describe food and men.  My research for this paragraph led to a quick Google of "scrummy", which linked to a "UK's Scrummiest Torso" contest.  I swatted the pop-up windows that link provoked.  See how I suffer for my readers?
And this leads me to the end result of my mental wheels grinding:

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