What’s in a word? Let’s look at some spit, mead, and colors | The Ginger Journalist

Words are powerful — but they can be fun, too.

I like words.

That probably the most obvious statement ever, but it’s still worth saying, and my job gives me ample opportunities to learn new ones, get creative with old ones, and present them in a way to craft not just news, but the stories that go along with it.

Sometimes those stories are serious — politics, corruption, murder, and I give these somber events as much respect as possible via the written language.

But other times, I just get to have fun with it. Case in point, one of my favorite websites is punpedia.com so I can keep my wordplay fresh. My record is seven puns in one sentence.

So it’s no surprise that I sometimes run across a word, or a phrase, that just grabs my attention, and I can’t help myself from looking it up and sharing my newfound knowledge with anyone within earshot.

For example, I recently overheard a woman use the phrase “spitting image”; I immediately pulled out my phone, Googled the etymology, and promptly interrupted their conversation.

According to Merriam-Webster (and this is, frankly, the only time it’s appropriate to quote a dictionary), the word “spit” used to mean “perfect likeness,” and possibly comes from the idea that a child is so alike their parent that… yes… it’s like they spit the kid out of their mouth:

“Meanwhile the defeated lawyer with his fair one had secretly fled to private furnished lodgings, at the house of Mr. Thomas Prior … where she was brought to bed of a daughter, his acknowledged child, but according to the report of the nurse, ‘the very spit of the old Captain.’” — The New Newgate Calendar, 1810

One, awkward. And two, kinda gross.

Another, less moist theory is that “spitting image” comes from the phrase “spirit and image,” and I guess we just got really lazy along the way and combined those two words.

“Honeymoon,” has one of the best origin stories I’ve heard.

According to Merriam-Webster, the phrase simply came about from the idea that the first month of marriage (a full moon cycle) is the sweetest.

Yeah, that’s boring.

Dictionary.com has a much more interesting theory, in that it started out as a reference to June, the honey-harvesting season, and that the month was a popular time to get married. “Mead Moon” appeared to be interchangeable with “honeymood” (if you didn’t know, mead is fermented with honey).

And not that Batch Mead is any sort of expert source on etymology, but the meadery expands on this theory, claiming that newlywed couples in 5th century Babylon were given a month’s worth of mead, and that drinking some every day for a moon cycle gave them good luck.

Mead was considered an aphrodisiac and was also thought to promote fertility. Getting buzzed for a month would help with that, I bet.

But my big question is, why did we stop this tradition? Forget the garter toss; bring back the mead barrel!

And then there are colors.

The current (English) spelling of blue is a combination of Old French, Old English, Old Norse, and English (why that’s different that Old English, I don’t know, but you can bet I’ll look that up eventually).

But blue hasn’t been around forever.

If you’ve read Homers “The Odyssey” (no, I haven’t, but my wife sure has) the color blue is never mentioned, though black, yellow, white, red, and green are. And there’s some weirdness there, too — according to Greek Reporter, the famous Greek poet referred to honey as green and sheep and violet.

But when it came to the sea (and there’s a lot of sea in this epic), Homer described it as “wine-dark” instead of blue.

Why this is has been a debate among scholars and scientists for decades, and a heated one at that.

The theories are numerous. I hope I can do them justice:

• This is a mistranslation of some sort; older languages like Ancient Greek are less expansive than modern languages, and trying the translate the former into the latter is difficult. It’s also likely the Greeks described colors differently, perhaps because they didn’t differentiate between various shades and hues the same way we do. (E.g. is teal a blue or green?)

• Homer actually described the sea correctly, because some ancient Greeks added a hard, alkaline water to their wine, making it darker and a blue-ish color.

• This wasn’t a color description at all, but a way to describe the sea as turbulent (there’s a lot of sea turbulence in this epic), since drunk people can sometimes become out of control and dangerous.

• That humans had not evolved enough to see the color blue at this time. This theory seems to be the most contentious and controversial by far, given its purported basis in poor (or fake) scientific tests and that other cultures at the time could absolutely see, and had a word, for blue.

• The Greek word blue simply didn’t work in The Odyssey, which is in dactylic hexameter — a very specific rhythmic way to write epics back then. (OK, I pulled this one out of a hat — Ancient Greek scholars, please forgive my ignorance!)

Words shape our world, whether you’re using words to make someone laugh, urge people to action, or give an emotional eulogy

Many say that a picture is worth a thousand words — that one of the ultimate forms of language is visual, not verbal or written.

I disagree. Pictures, drawings, and paintings may evoke emotions, contain histories, and demonstrate techniques that can be the basis of theses and lectures for ages, but the words we use to describe these images determine how we comprehend them.

How would we discuss the “Mona Lisa” if we didn’t have a word for “smile”? Or Van Goughs, if our lexicon didn’t differentiate yellow from red? And as our language evolves, how will future generations look at what we make today and debate themes and topics that we can’t even imagine?

Words shape thought. Words shape reality. And we throw them around every day like they’re nothing.

How language has evolved over the millennia is amazing. In many ways, it can be very entertaining.

But I strongly suggest examining the words we use every day — what do they mean? Where do they come from? Why do you use these words, and not others? And when you string them together, how do they affect the world around you?

The pen isn’t just mightier than the sword; the words that come through it are the greatest weapons in the world. We must wield them carefully.