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Jul 6, 2020
This week’s theme
Shirts and pants as metaphors

This week’s words
redshirt
smarty-pants
sansculotte
descamisado
bloody shirt

Previous week’s theme
Back-formations
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A.Word.A.Day
with Anu Garg

What’s common between a shirt and shorts? They make for an appropriate summer attire. Both are one-syllable words and sound similar, but there’s more to it. Both share the same root. The word shirt came to us from Old English scyrte and short(s) from Old English sceort, but both are ultimately from the same Indo-European root sker- (to cut).*

So far so good. Let’s make things a little more interesting. The word skirt also came from the same root, but it came to us via Old Norse skyrta where it meant a shirt.

If you thought the change in fashion was fickle, you should meet etymology.

A lot can happen as a word travels in time and distance. It can change as it makes a jump from one language to another and from one time period to another (more examples: 1, 2, 3).

This may be a good time to make a public service announcement. Do not insist that a word should mean today what it meant originally. What a word means today is what it really means. Pronunciation, meaning, or spelling can change, and often do, over time.

Embrace change. Live in the present. Not past or future.

Who knew etymology could lead to zen?

Enough enlightenment for today. Let’s get back to the mundane. This week we share five words that originate in shirts and pants.

*How did we get the words skirt and shirt (and shorts) from the Indo-European root sker (to cut)? Who knows! Perhaps it refers to a cut piece used to make such a piece of clothing. Or maybe both are short pieces of clothing, compared to a long robe more common in the past or perhaps cut from such a dress.

redshirt

PRONUNCIATION:
(RED-shuhrt)

MEANING:
noun:A college athlete who practices with the team, but does not take part in official games.
verb tr., intr.:1. To extend eligibility by a year by making an athlete practice, but not participate, in official games.
 2. To delay enrolling a child by a year to avoid their being one of the youngest in the class.

ETYMOLOGY:
From the red jersey typically worn by such an athlete. Earliest documented use: 1950.

NOTES:
Why hold back an athlete in college? It may be to help the student develop and mature so that they can play their eligible full four years successfully. In such cases, the student finishes college in five years, instead of four. It may also be done if an athlete is injured. Should you delay enrolling your little one in kindergarten just so they are not the youngest? Experts say not. See here.

USAGE:
“‘Nothing new.’ John shrugged. ‘School’s going well, football, too.’
‘He’s a redshirt this year, isn’t he?’
‘He is. It’ll give him an extra year of eligibility.’”
Karen Kingsbury; A Time to Embrace; Thomas Nelson; 2010.

“My own son was born in August, so he is a prime candidate for redshirting. ... We’re not going to be holding him back, though.”
Leah McLaren; Holding Children Back Is Not the Right Start; The Globe and Mail (Toronto, Canada); Sep 11, 2015.

A THOUGHT FOR TODAY:
In an earlier stage of our development most human groups held to a tribal ethic. Members of the tribe were protected, but people of other tribes could be robbed or killed as one pleased. Gradually the circle of protection expanded, but as recently as 150 years ago we did not include blacks. So African human beings could be captured, shipped to America, and sold. In Australia white settlers regarded Aborigines as a pest and hunted them down, much as kangaroos are hunted down today. Just as we have progressed beyond the blatantly racist ethic of the era of slavery and colonialism, so we must now progress beyond the speciesist ethic of the era of factory farming, of the use of animals as mere research tools, of whaling, seal hunting, kangaroo slaughter, and the destruction of wilderness. We must take the final step in expanding the circle of ethics. -Peter Singer, philosopher and professor of bioethics (b. 6 Jul 1946)

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