Sunday, 8 May 2022

Synonym Etymologies G

Continuing the look at synonyms through the eyes of the etymologist, this time it is the letter G and gas. This I found a little more difficult as there are dozens of synonyms for 'gas' but this is because 'gas' has so many uses - but, as ever, I will give it a try. In the most basic sense it is a state of matter (along with solid and liquid). It is first used in English around the middle of the 17th century and taken from the Dutch. This, in turn, came from the Greek khaos which did not mean 'chaos' but 'empty space'.

Excellent or exciting (it's a gas) was first used in 1953, derived from the earlier hipster term 'gasser' and with the same meaning. But there is a rather earlier use of the term, albeit in the phrase 'everything is gas and goiters' by none other than Charles Dickens in 1839. Note, as I've said so many times, just because a word first appears in print with a certain meaning on a certain date, it does not mean it is the first use of same - indeed, it is safe to assume the vast majority of apparently 'new' words were already in use before they appeared in print, otherwise the reader would likely not have a clue what the writer was talking about. And, let's face it, that would be quite diabelisimilitudinal.

The American use of 'gas' as a shortened form of 'gasoline', first used in the USA in 1864 and itself first used as 'gasolene' in Britain the year earlier. It may come as a surprise to learn it began as a trade name, the fuel burning as a vapour, with the addition of -ol- to denote 'oil' and -ine as a chemical suffix.

Petrol, as the British would know it, is a shortened form of 'petroleum' which, once again, uses 'the -ol- or 'oil' with a perceived chemical suffix -eum. The first element shows it was extracted from rock, for it uses the Latin petra 'rock'.

Vapour, having already mentioned the word and it also once being used in the sense of 'gasses', comes from Old French where it was used to mean 'moisture' as much as 'vapour'. Note the idea of 'the vapours', used from the middle of the 17th century and a reference to anything from fainting to hysteria to fitting, was the then idea it came from exhalations from internal organs of the torso which would be affecting the brain.

Air and, having got away from the gasseous meaning, come back to the original sense. It came to English from Old French air and Latin aer, both with the same meaning, and Greek aer which more often spoke of 'mist, haze, clouds' and later 'atmosphere'. It seems the word originated in Proto-Indo-European aeirein which was used to mean 'raise' and also 'windpipe' and a third meaning of 'artery'. Indeed, this last meaning has also given us the name of the body's major artery the 'aorta'.

Atmosphere seems to be the next logical step, an obviously Greek origin where atmos spoke of 'steam, vapour' and sphaira or 'sphere' combine to describe what the Greeks saw as the contaminated part of the lower part of the air as opposed to the pure and untainted upper air where the gods resided.

Talk is another sense for 'gas', albeit in a negative and slang sense meaning 'empty talk'. It is first seen in print in 1847 and is likely the reason it became used to mean 'joke, funny' as it was by James Joyce in 1917.

Babble is, like many words which describe language difficult to comprehend, imitative of whatever they reference - in this case it is baby talk. Other words which similarly ridicule the speaker are: 'gobbledegook' or imitative of a turkey; 'cuckoo' another suggesting a person is bird-brained; 'jargon' is derived from a phrase meaning 'to twitter like birds'; 'barbarous' tells us they are 'non-Greek speakers' (how atrocious); and 'bafflegab', probably the best of the lot and one which should be brought back into general use.

Wind, which comes from the Proto-Indo-European root we 'to blow', is listed here as it is also used as a slighter more polite term for 'gas' as used to refer to air trapped and/or released by the body. Most often, at least in Britain, it describes air trapped in the upper digestive tract - dyspepsia is another term - and thus rather badly named as the discomfort caused in down to trapped air and thus not moving (or windy) in the usual sense. Research revealed the word 'wind' had been used to rhyme with 'hind, rind, behind' until as recently as the 18th century. Even I, who is known for not appreciating poetry, sympathise with poets (the real poets, the rhyming ones) as it severely limits potential rhymes.

Heartburn and, having mentioned dyspepsia/indigestion, clearly confuses the associated pain/discomfort with a cardiac problem. Yet that has only been the case since the 15th century, prior to that the term was used to describe 'anger' or 'bitterness' (1400) and to refer to 'lust' (13th century).

Fart, and if I omit this four-letter offering I'll only be deluged by emails again (thankfully not from Mrs Trellis), has gone almost unchanged since language has been recorded and has never meant anything else. Interestingly, if farting could ever be classified as interesting, until at least the Middle Ages there was also the term 'clatterer' which described one known for their 'clatterfarts', which is an onomatopaeic word refers specifically to audible farts, tending to suggest that other farts around this time were silent farts.

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