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Today's Word



Jul 29, 2019
This week’s theme
Powered by kids

This week’s words

Powered by Active, Happy Kids
Photo: Stuti Garg

Previous week’s theme
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with Anu Garg

On a recent visit to the Y (formerly YMCA), I saw a Y van with bold letters on its side, announcing: Powered by Active, Happy Kids.

I had so many questions!

I know gas prices are constantly going up, but why not raise membership dues a bit to compensate for that? Yes, we need to use creative ways to reduce our dependence on fossil fuel, but this? Do we really want to yoke kids into powering vans?

Powered by active, happy kids? Yes, anyone would be considered “active” if they are pulling a 1000-lb. vehicle -- no need to state the obvious -- but are those tykes really “happy” doing it?

What happened to child labor laws? I’m against even the use of horses to pull carriages, but if we really have to put any animals into this, why not get adult humans to do it? I mean, all that huffing and puffing on treadmills and ellipticals goes to waste anyway. Isn’t there some word like manpower?

The only place where Powered by Happy Kids* would make sense is on the side of a tricycle.

Seriously though, I understand whoever came up with the idea of sticking that phrase on a van thought they were helping the Y be hip. But there’s something to be said about sprachgefuhl.

Well, that van may or may not be powered by kids, but a lot of language is, in fact, powered by little ones. A bimbo is, literally, a little child (from Italian); El Niño is the Christ Child (from Spanish); infantry is, literally, little kids (from Italian); a pupa is a little girl or doll (from Latin).

This week’s words are powered by children too. We’ve rounded up children, Greek, Latin, and French, and put them into powering this week’s words. If they are not easily visible, it’s because we’ve hidden them in the engine room (also known as the etymology room) of the language.

*Though when push comes to shove, “Powered by Happy Kids” is still preferable over Powered by Happy.


(hy-puh-kuh-RIS-tik, hip-uh-)

adjective: Relating to a pet name or diminutive form of a name.
noun: A pet name or diminutive form of a name.

From Greek hypokoristikos, from hypokorizesthai (to call by pet names), from hypo- (under) + kor- (child). Ultimately from Indo-European root ker- (to grow), which is also the source of other words such as increase, recruit, crew, crescent, cereal, concrete, crescendo, sincere, and Spanish crecer (to grow). Earliest documented use: 1796.

“Malena is the hypocoristic form of Madalena, but there is nothing diminutive about supermodel-actress Monica Belluci.”
Edwin Jahiel; Tornatore’s ‘Malena’ Another Unknown but Moving Film; News Gazette (Champaign, Illinois); Mar 2, 2001.

We succeed in enterprises which demand the positive qualities we possess, but we excel in those which can also make use of our defects. -Alexis de Tocqueville, statesman and historian (29 Jul 1805-1859)

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