A couple of books that have been sitting around patiently waiting for me to write about them:

Charles Hodgson, who runs the etymology site podictionary, sent me his new book History of Wine Words: An Intoxicating Dictionary of Etymology and Word Histories of Wine, Vine, and Grape from the Vineyard, Glass, and Bottle, whose title and subtitle tell you just what’s in the bottle. Hodgson did a good job on this; he doesn’t settle for folk etymologies or vintners’ myths, he gets the facts if they’re available, and discusses the possibilities if there’s no clear answer. He says, for instance, that the most likely origin of Beaune is “Latin Belena Castro, meaning ‘fortress of Belenos'” (adding that “Belenos was a Gaulish-Celtic god who has been likened to Apollo”), and traces grenache back to the same origin as Vernaccia (probably from Latin vernaculus ‘native, indigenous’). I had at one time thought of doing a book like this myself, but lazy as I am, I much prefer to have someone else do it for me.

Patricia O’Conner, a frequent perpetrator of pop grammar books and proprietor of, has come out with Origins of the Specious: Myths and Misconceptions of the English Language (cowritten with Stewart Kellerman and sent me by the publisher, Random House). The good news is that she’s learned that (as she says in her introduction) “English is all about change,” and she’s much more flexible than your standard fuddy-duddy maven. She has an admirable discussion of ain’t (complete with a lively account of the verbal delights of Dizzy Dean) and explains that the much-maligned “nucular” for nuclear “will one day be considered just another standard pronunciation.” If she retains a whiff of disapproval, that may help her get past the defenses of the disapproving masses. And I learned a good deal of lexical history from her discussion of call a spade a spade—did you know that the “spade” got in there via Erasmus’s mistranslation of Greek skaphē ‘trough’? That’s my idea of fun.


  1. I feel minorly honorbound to note that Ms. O’Conner & Mr. Kellerman and myself have been exchanging a couple emails over the last couple of days with regard to the finer points of the Yiddish tongue. Suffice it to say that the English-from-Yiddish words Schmuck and Putz do not derive from the identically spelled German specimens, and this fact will be reflected in any future editions of _Origins_.
    Anybody who likes, come to me and I’ll cross out the relevant lines for you, to make double sure.
    On an off-topic note: it has become almost common practice for me to delineate second-order ‘and’ groupings within a first-order ‘and’ by alternating ‘and’ and ‘&’, as I did in my first sentence. Is this practiced by anybody else at all?
    PPS: I am similarly minorly delighted that I have had cause to write a sequence which any English speaker would pronounce ‘and and and’, and yet all three ‘ands’ are different lexical referents.
    PPPS: Four ‘and’s, then.

  2. I’ve often wondered the same thing, about whether — oh dear, is this just computer jargon? — “&” binds more tightly than “and” in other people’s heads, as well as mine. I guess it shouldn’t matter, technically, because “and” is commutative, but it does, because nothing is really commutative. Not in natural language, anyway.
    in symbols what I mean is that “a & b and c & d” means, to me, “(a and b) and (c and d)”.

  3. rootlesscosmo says

    Is the ampersand more commonly used for pairs that nearly always occur together? Gilbert & Sullivan, railroad names (CB&Q, C&O, L&N and many others), Russ & Daughters…

  4. John Emerson says

    Hodgson did a good job on this; he doesn’t settle for folk etymologies or vintners’ myths, he gets the facts if they’re available — thus ruining everyone’s fun for no good reason at all.
    Here’s how to do etymology:
    “When the beast got to Orléans, and the wasps assaulted her, she switched about her tail so furiously that she knocked down all the trees that grew in the vicinity, and Gargantua, delighted, exclaimed, “Je trouve beau ce!” wherefore the locality has been called “Beauce” ever since.”

  5. Russ & Daughters!
    Rootlesscosmo, are you a New Yorker too?

  6. I think that apart from note-taking and cutting down on characters in Twitter and other such nonce usages, I would only use an ampersand for pairs of proper nouns or a pair which together would function as a proper noun even if the individual components weren’t.

  7. Basically the two items would have to form a unit in some way. Thus “‘The Pirates of Penzance’ by Gilbert & Sullivan”, but “Gilbert and Sullivan first met in the year ….”.

  8. Sorry, Hat, to derail your thread before it even got a chance to rail in the first place.

  9. It’s never a good idea to rail off-track.

  10. @Hat: “got in their via Erasmus’s mistranslation”

  11. Grumbly: the flexibility of language that Hat is always promoting ? 😉

  12. Paul: yes, that’s why I sympathize with Hat. Like me, he apparently wants to fit both views – flower-power and pig-power – into a theoretically consistent framework, but that ain’t on the cards. Practically, of course, an editor has it both ways. Hat’s a real smoothie, whereas I give the game away by grumbling so much. I should look for that old handbook I once had on silence and cunning.

  13. Bill Walderman says

    Belena Castro or Belena Castra?

  14. Sorry, Hat, to derail your thread before it even got a chance to rail in the first place.
    Are you kidding? That’s a great derail, and I think I too tend to use & for natural pairs; Fowler is unusual in using it everywhere.
    Grumbly: Thanks, I’ll fix it. (I really shouldn’t wait till bedtime to do the day’s post.)

  15. mollymooly says

    Wikipedia WGA screenwriting credit system: “Where a team of writers works on a screenplay, names are joined by an ampersand (&), and when two teams of writers work successively on a script, the teams are joined by and. So, a credit reading “John Doe & Richard Roe and Jane Doe & Jane Roe” means that there were two writing teams, John and Richard on one and the two Janes on the other.”

  16. I keep reminding myself to write ‘&c’ instead of ‘etc’, but never get round to doing it.

  17. rootlesscosmo says

    @John Cowan:
    Rootlesscosmo, are you a New Yorker too?
    Lapsed–I’ve lived in the SF Bay Area for fifty years. (And my default shrine to smoked fish is Barney Greengrass the Sturgeon King, not Russ & Daughters–I was an Upper West Side kid.)

  18. Don’t you think using & for natural pairs comes from having seen it like that on signage?

  19. You mean like a Head&Shoulders billboard? But where did that ‘&’ come from?
    What is a “natural pair”? Is that like a “natural kind” in philosophy? There’s a notion I’ve never been able to make sense of, although lots of people bandy it about. It seems to be a consumptive descendant of “species”, used by die-hards fighting to retain a belief in the stability and objective reality of “nature”.
    Is Black&White a natural pair, or only when suitably aged? Were Abercrombie&Fitch joined at the hip at birth?
    The only thing that really makes sense to me in this connection, although it doesn’t explain anything, is dale’s

    “&” binds more tightly than “and” in other people’s heads, as well as mine

  20. Head&Shoulders. Or should it the usage of the ampersand be Head & Shoulders ?
    Picky, or what ?

  21. komfo,amonan says

    Hm. I tend to use ‘&’ in all but the most formal contexts, & wouldn’t be inclined to ask either ‘&’ or ‘and’ to indicate tighter binding. I don’t think they can h&le it.

  22. John Emerson says

    Whereas my attempt at derailment was coldly ignored by all. I’m a failled saboteur and will soon be expelled from the IWW.

  23. J. W. Brewer says

    My blackberry seems to lack a &, so I’ve taken to using + instead for texts composed on that device (where abbreviation is key because my rate of keystrokes-per-minute goes way way down on the teensy keyboard). This seems vaguely Continental, although I may be overgeneralizing from having stayed at a K+K hotel ten years ago in Vienna (where the brand name was supposedly intended to in part evoke the old K.u.K. abbreviation of such significance in the Hapsburg days).

  24. To me, + is ‘plus’, not ‘and’.
    Abercrombie & Fitch sells clothing and Abercrombie + Fitch were a good sales team.
    What is the IWW? Is it the wobblies? The wikipedia article says that membership in the UK is steadily catching up with that of the IWW in North America, but that the United States has only 900 dues-paying members.

  25. To me, + is ‘plus’, not ‘and’.
    Abercrombie & Fitch sells clothing and Abercrombie + Fitch were a good sales team.
    What is the IWW? Is it the wobblies? The wikipedia article says that membership in the UK is steadily catching up with that of the IWW in North America, but that the United States has only 900 dues-paying members.

  26. The “K+K” style seems to me largely connected to German-speaking Europe, while rarely seen in France and the UK, eg. Gruner+Jahr publishers, many Swiss and also Dutch architects, etc. A new hotel chain in Germany and France is called B+B, and I suspect it’s German owned.

  27. Apparently the Irish Whip Wrestling link doesn’t work, sorry.

  28. Here is Irish Whip Wrestling. Crown, somehow Hat’s URL “” had gotten prepended to your link.

  29. Paul: the name of that new hotel chain is written B&B on its website. I found various London hotels with “+”, for instance the B+B in Belgravia.
    Google replaces “+” by “&”, and asks you whether your “&” means “and”.

  30. Bill Walderman says

    “I was an Upper West Side kid!”
    Me too! We moved to New York when I was 4 or 5, living at the Benjamin Franklin Hotel at 74th & Broadway for a while. Then we lived at 118 W. 79th (between Amsterdam & Columbus) from about 1951 to 1954; then at 355 W. 88th; then from 1960 at 305 W. 86th St. After we moved to 88th St. we got our smoked fish at Murray’s, which was located between 90th & 91st on Broadway. They were there long before Zabar’s. And when we went to the Tip Toe Inn for delicatessen and bakery items. The cashier once recited the beginning of the Odyssey in Greek when he learned I was studying the language. The subway was 13 cents and there were double-decker buses on Riverside Drive (the Number 5, which starts on 5th Avenue at Washington Square). That was before the Upper West Side became the new Upper East Side–I couldn’t afford to live there now. There weren’t a lot of kids in the neighborhood, so I was left to my own devices.

  31. My blackberry seems to lack a &, so I’ve taken to using + …
    The first time I (hastily) read this I interpreted it as:
    My blackberry seems to lack “a” and so I’ve taken to using “+” …
    I know, I know, there was even a comma to help, but that’s how it struck me. What can I say?

  32. True, + is not the same as &, but in handwriting there is a strange character that looks like +, except that there is a loop on the left side, and it means ‘and’. Is this derived from +?

  33. Quite right Grumbly. I googled B+B hotels and site it came up with a site but didn’t look closely. Obviously they worked out that some people might use B+B (presumably Germans) anbd so covered it.

  34. Bademantel: in handwriting there is a strange character that looks like +, except that there is a loop on the left side, and it means ‘and’
    I can’t imagine what you’re referring to!? We’ve run up against the limits of Unicode. Could you write out an example, photograph it and put the photo on the net? Or send me a fax of the example and I’ll put it up.
    The “ampersand” entry in the OED is strangely formulated.

    Corruption of ‘and per se—and’, the old way of spelling and naming the character &; i.e. ‘& by itself = and,’ found in various forms in almost all the dialect Glossaries. See A per se (under AIV1) I per se, O per se, etc.

    1882 Freeman in Longm. Mag. I. 95 ‘Ampussy and,’ that is, in full ‘and per se, and,’ is the name of the sign for the conjunction and, &, which used to be printed at the end of the alphabet.

    The word “ampersand” is composed of redundant parts. The OED, like those whom it quotes, sees fit to repeat the redundancy in the definition – ‘& by itself = and’ – making it appear that “and” is in fact never by itself, but always occurs twice.

  35. “…and traces grenache back to the same origin as Vernaccia …”
    If grenache is the same grape as the garnacha, and it is, then it probably would be the same as the vernaccia, except that the vernaccia is not always the same grape as the vernaccia. Welcome to the hose of mirrors that is the tangle of common names for plants.

  36. DG: Is this derived from +?
    Probably, but I suppose it could also be derived from ‘et’, as the funny little Greekish ε-thing I sometimes use for ‘and’ is.

  37. B+B (presumably Germans)
    I’m not sure you’re right about a German preference for “+” in company names, as in “Gruner + Jahr”. It seemed plausible to me at first, but after casting about in the immediate vicinity I don’t find it to be that common. It might be more accurate to say that “+” is less common than “&” in American company names, as well as German ones.
    “Gmbh & Co.” is ubiquitous. There is the publishing house Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht. Until 2006, when it was sold to the Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften, there was a publisher Leske + Budrich, but such examples are few and far between. I think “+” is supposed to seem more forward-looking than “&”.

  38. J.W. Brewer says

    GmbH & Co. sounded oddly redundant to me (since I would have said a GmbH is just one specific type of “Co.” under German law), but it turns out that it has a precise legal meaning if you add z.B. a “KG” after the “Co.” (“KG” for Kommanditgesellschaft) and know more about the finer points of current German business-association law than it turns out I did., which points to other articles on further variants in the list of Rechtsformen in Deutschland at the bottom, all of which seem to favor & over +.

  39. You’re right, I should have written “GmbH & Co. KG” in full. My attention was focused on merely having something on each side of the ampersand.
    I’ve never seen “GmbH & Co.” without the KG. Not that it would have made any difference, since I have not a clue about these legal constructions. When I was still on speaking terms with tax consultants, they would drone on about the completely legal tax dodges made possible by “& Co. KG”.

  40. I correct myself, after checking the Wikipedia article you cited. Of course what’s at issue here is limited personal liability, not tax dodges. But the consultants did drone.

    Ziel dieser gesellschaftsrechtlichen Konstruktion ist es, Haftungsrisiken für die hinter der Gesellschaft stehenden Personen auszuschließen oder zu begrenzen.

    The purpose of this construction under the law of business associations is to limit, or eliminate, the liability of the persons involved in the company.

  41. Bill Walderman: BELENA CASTRO is surely wrong, but instead of BELENA CASTRA, which I do not think is a possible Latin name (we would expect BELENACA CASTRA or the like, i.e. with some derivational adjective-forming suffix attached to BELENOS) I would suggest BELENI CASTRA (If memory serves, BELENA and BELENI would both yield BEAUNE in French, whereas BELENACA would have yielded something like *BEAUNY).

  42. It occurs to me that of the surely vast amount of work done on regular sound change from Latin into the Romance languages, I am familiar with more or less none of it. Any references, Etienne?

  43. To Z.D. Smith: a very handy book on the topic is FROM LATIN TO ROMANCE IN SOUND CHARTS, by Peter Boyd-Bowman (Kalamazoo, Michigan, 1980: self-published): despite the title it only covers four Romance languages (French, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian), but for those four gives a thorough listing of sound changes from Latin to the Modern languages, with plenty of examples.

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