Raise your glass and ‘toast’ these words

Published 5:13 pm Tuesday, July 5, 2022

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After 30-plus years of writing personal columns for this newspaper, I find it somewhat amazing of the process I use to come up with something different each week.

Case in point is this week’s column, the subject matter of which was sparked by watching an episode of Pawn Stars on TV.

For those of you unfamiliar with the show, it’s a realty series based on the Harrison family who own and operate the World Famous Gold and Silver Pawn Shop in Las Vegas. I’ve been watching it for years.

On Thursday of last week, one of the episodes included a guy who comes into the shop looking to sell an antique toaster, a metal device, capable of holding up to four slices of bread, that is positioned over a heat source. This particular one dates back to 1900.

Pawn Stars typically features a segment that gives unique insights to an item. If this particular case, I discovered that the word toast (as in toasted bread) led to another type of toast.

Back in the 1600’s, the English would use spiced bread to add flavor to an alcoholic drink. Those ordering such beverages would hoist their glasses to acknowledge one another or in celebration of an event. Hence the word toast, as in a wish of goodwill, was born.

That led me to search for another English words that have unique origins. I stumbled across the website ef.com that contained a treasure trove of such words. Here’s a sampling:

We all enjoy fixing a sandwich…they’re quick and easy to make and can include all sorts of meats, breads, and other fixings.

But did you know that sandwich comes from British royalty? Seems there was an English politician and nobleman in the 18th century by the name of the 4th Earl of Sandwich.

It seems that the Earl enjoyed gambling, so much to the point where he would snack at the table, to include wrapping his food between two slices of bread. That led to the others seated at the gambling table to ask the servants for “the same as Sandwich.” That was eventually shortened to just a sandwich.

Thank goodness that happened as I would be lost at lunchtime without a sandwich and a handful of chips.

Did you know that the word nice originally meant ignorant or foolish? The word – and its first meaning – originated from the Latin word – “neciius.” It’s thought that it slowly became positive over time because, once it was introduced into the English language, it was often used to refer to a person who was ludicrously over-dressed. Later, this was confused with a reference to something that is refined or to someone who was “nicely” dressed.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, we all were re-introduced to the word “quarantine.” That word is traced to a plague that swept across Europe in the 14th century that wiped out approximately 30 percent of the population at that time. It comes from the Italian word “quaranta giorni”, or “forty days”, in reference to the fact that, in an effort to halt the spread of the plague, ships were put into isolation on nearby islands for a forty-day period before those on board were allowed ashore.

It’s widely accepted that bad things often occur after the sun sets. Nightmare is such a word associated with something spooky. In this particular word, “mare” references a female goblin that sits on you, suffocates you while you sleep, entangles her hair around you in a “marelock”, and tries to induce bad thoughts.

Okay, now after learning that, it’s going to be a tough task for me to fall asleep tonight.

And, similar to the need for a sandwich, where would we be without ketchup? The word originates from 17th century China where they referenced a mixture of pickled fish and spices as “koe-chiap.” Thank goodness that someone in their right mind down the line replaced pickled fish with tomato sauce. I can’t see myself covering a plate of hot French fries with pickled fish.

While talking about food, the word barbecue comes from the Caribbean word ‘barbakoa’ meaning “frame of sticks.” And we all know what happens when you set fire to sticks and then lay a pig on a frame over those hot coals.

Here in the South, we use barbecue as a noun and not a verb. It’s a slow-roasted hog, that when done is finely chopped (or pulled from the bone), doused with a vinegar-based sauce, and served with cole slaw, taters, and hushpuppies, complete with a tall, ice-cold glass of tea.

And while chowing down on a big plate of ‘cue with all the traditional fixings, us Southerners may engage in own unique dialect. Where else would you hear a word such as bumfuzzle, which means being confused or flustered. Another Southern word is cattywampus. It actually has two totally different meanings….something in disarray or something that isn’t directly across from something else. Catty-corner is another word that is used when describing the latter meaning of cattywampus.

Here are some other funny words we may use in our daily vocabulary:

Flibbertigibbet, which refers to someone who is silly and who talks incessantly.

Malarkey…..words that are insincere and talk that is particularly foolish.

Brouhaha….. an uproar or big event.

Comeuppance, which means someone gets what they deserve.

Donnybrook….an uprising, melee, or riot.

And, finally, one of my dad’s all-time favorite words was nincompoop…. someone who is silly or foolish. I hope he wasn’t thinking of me when he used that word!

Cal Bryant is the Editor of Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact him at cal.bryant@r-cnews.com or 252-332-7207.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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