In the early days of the 1800s, trade was just beginning to open up between Japan and America. Most American trade ships docked in the port of Yokohama. The city had one main street that was well-policed at night, and it was called Honcho-dori Street. It was the only safe thoroughfare in town; sailors caught in the city after dark trying to return to their ship through twisting alleys and convoluted byways were far more likely to be robbed, beaten and murdered. Therefore men being granted shore leave were warned never to wander through Yokohama at night, and to stick to the main route of Honcho-dori street, where they could be assured that everything would be “hunky-dori” which is how the phrase came into English.
The French “hoche” means “a shaking.” Add that to the word “pot” and you have “a shaking together in a pot.” “Hotch-pot” became the word for a stew and led to our “hodgepodge” meaning a jumbled assortment.
• In Middle English “habben” meant to have; and “ne habben” meant to have not. “Habben, ne habben” was eventually abbreviated to “hobnob.”
In Massachusetts in 1812, Governor Elbridge Gerry pressured the legislature to re-district the state to insure his victory in the next election. A team of men re-drew the voting boundaries to include any pockets they could find of Elbridge supporters. One voting district in Essex County looked like a dragon. Someone looking at a map of the new district mentioned that it looked like a salamander. A bystander said a better name would be Gerrymander, after the Governor. And that’s how “gerrymander” came to mean tampering with something to make it advantageous to yourself.
Edward I of England invaded Scotland in 1296. In every town that was overtaken, he would force the local politicians to sign a document pledging support to the King. The generic term for any official document written on a scroll was “ragman roll.” Officials made public readings of the long boring ragman rolls, where people got tired of listening to what we now call “rigamarole.”
In France, the word “grourmet” meant a groom for the horses. Later it came to mean a groom for the horses, and then was applied to any of the servants of a home. Some of the servants were professional wine-tasters; some were connoisseurs of food. Eventually the word that used to mean groom came to mean one who is well studied in fine foods— a gourmet.
In John Milton’s poem “Paradise Lost” written in 1667, the city of Pandemonium is the capital of hell. Pandemonium is coined from the terms “pan” meaning “all” and “daimon” meaning demons: the city of All Demons.
In sailing, a sheet is a line that attaches to the lower corner of a sail. When you pull the sheet in, the sail is tight against the wind and the ship sails quickly. When you let the sheet out, the sail sags and flaps in the wind and the ship comes to a standstill. A ship that has “three sheets to the wind” is floating helplessly in the water, just as a person who has had too many drinks is helpless.
What does a catacomb have to do with a cat or a comb? Nothing. The word is from the Greek “kata” meaning down, and “kumbe” meaning hollow.
The Latin word “supra” means over and “saltus” means jump. “Suprasaltus” passed through Spanish, French and Old English before becoming our somersault.