A series commissioned by Origin Theatre Company

Part 1 – Origin
by Mike Finn

It would seem wise to embark on a search for the origin of the word ‘origin’ with a certain degree of trepidation. Like crossing the proton energy beams in Ghostbusters or colliding particles in the Large Haydron Collider, seeking the origin of ‘origin’ might, at worst, precipitate the unraveling of the very fabric of the universe or, at best, lead down some etymological vortex at the bottom of which is the erasure of all the world’s dictionaries. Or maybe I’ve just been in lockdown too long.‘Chambers Dictionary of Etymology’ seemed like good place to start, boasting as it does of containing “the origins and development of over 25,000 words.”

Here we learn that before the year 1400 the word was spelled origyne and meant the “fact of arising from some ancestor.” The word was borrowed into English from the Old French origine which, in turn, came from the Latin orīginem, meaning “begining, source or birth.” That word, in turn, came from the Latin orīrī, meaning “to rise.” Speaking of rising, from Reader’s Digest ‘The Origins of Words & Phrases’ we learn that the word ‘Orient’ also has the Latin orīrī as its root, the countries of the East being called the Orient because the sun rises there. We have Geoffrey Chaucer to thank for the first recorded use of Orient – he slipped the word into the ‘Canterbury Tales’ around 1390. Co-incidentally, the phrase original sin, referring to the Christian concept of sin handed down from Adam and Eve, also made its debut in the ‘Canterbury Tales’. Webster’s Third New International Dictionary tells us that it’s a direct translation from the Medieval Latin phrase peccatum originale. Fair enough.One chap who had no truck with Adam and Eve was one Charles Robert Darwin. He’s responsible for one of the best known uses of the word ‘origin’. When, in 1859, he decided to name his study of evolution, ‘On The Origin Of The Species‘ he gave the word the sort of prominence that would only be eclipsed by the naming of a certain theatre company! And so we draw our study of the origin of ‘origin‘ to a close and, thankfully, the sky hasn’t fallen in. Yet.

Part 2 – Scribbledehobble
by Mike Finn

Estimates vary as to how many words make up the English language.Suffice it to say there are a lot. Still, this doesn’t stop writers making up their own. Shakespeare coined hundreds of new words. Lewis Carroll loved making up nonsense words. Dylan Thomas revelled in the musicality of made up language while James Joyce was a master at blending words and sounds just for the sheer joy of hearing the new coinage spoken. Joyce was a, sort of, literary foley artist.Finnegan’s Wake opens with one such blended word; Riverrun and before you even leave the first page of Jimmy’s most challenging work, there’s a one hundred letter creation representing the sound of the thunderclap that heralded the fall of Adam and Eve. What is it?B

ababadalgharaghtakamminarronnkonnbronntonnerronntuonnthunntrovarrhounawnskawntoohoohoordenenthurnuk. Bet you’re sorry you asked.Among the other fabulous words Joyce made up, are: Smilesmirk – a cross between a smile and a smirk. Umbershoot – an umbrella. Whenceness – the source or birthplace of something. Poppysmic – the sound made by lips smacking. Monoideal – conveying only a single idea. Mrkgnao – the sound made by a cat. AndYogibogeybox – the paraphernalia carried about by a spiritualist.Meanwhile, Scribbledehobble was the name Joyce gave to a battered notebook he carried around in which he jotted, words, phrases and ideas that came to him during the day. No, doubt it is here that many of his made up words first saw the light of day. Scribbledehobble may well be a blending of the words scribble and hobbledehoy, an old word meaning“something awkward or hurried.”Whatever words you say, hear or read today, enjoy your Bloomsday!

Part 3 – Quarantine
by Mike Finn

Words come in and out of favor depending on the events of the day. Prior to last March we would probably have struggled to find the word quarantine in our newspapers or on the airwaves. Now, it is everywhere. Defined by Webster as “to isolate as a precaution against contagious disease”, the Venetians helped spread the word quarantine while stopping the spread of the plague.At the height of its power the Venetian city state was trading with all corners of the earth thanks in no small part to a chap called Marco Polo who just couldn’t be enticed to stay at home. After he opened up trade routes with the far East, scores of ships entered the Venetian Lagoon daily, laden down with jewels, spices and silks. Oh, and rats … who carried diseases. In 1348, in the midst of the Black Death, Venice established the world’s first institutionalized system of quarantine, giving a council of three the power to detain ships, cargoes, and individuals in the Venetian lagoon for up to 40 days before entering the city to sell their goods on the Rialto. While the plague killed one fifth of Europe’s population, Venice was spared the worst of it. So, quarantine works. Chambers Dictionary of Etymology suggests another use of quarantine dating to 1609. Apparently, in common law, following the death of her husband, a widow had a forty day period in which she could remain in her husband’s house before having to vacate. How charitable! This forty day period was also know as quarantine.It will probably come as no surprise to you to learn that the work quarantine literally means ‘forty’. The Italian for quarantine, quarantina comes from the word for forty, quaranta which, in turn, comes from the Latin quadraginta which simply means ‘forty’. But why was the original quarantine period forty days? Was there a scientific or medical reason? Not a bit of it. Our etymological journey takes us all the way back to the Medieval Latin word Quarentena which was the name for the desert where Christ is said to have fasted for forty days and forty nights.

Part 4 – Furlough
by Mike Finn

The word “furlough” has gained great currency in recent months as many
employees across the world have been “furloughed” as a result of the
Covid 19 pandemic.

Webster’s Dictionary provides us with two related definitions;  1) “to
grant a leave of absence to”, and 2) “to subject to an enforced leave
of absence; lay off.” It is the second definition that has, sadly,
been used so frequently in recent times.

I always figured that “furlough” was a military term and, sure enough,
a brief perusal of several dictionaries of military slang confirmed my

The eminent etymologist, Eric Patridge in his book, ‘Dictionary of
Tommies’ Songs and Slang, 1914-18’, tells us that furlough is, simply,
“the official word for leave.”

‘Swear Like A Trouper – A Dictionary of Military Terms and Phrases’ by
William L. Priest is a little more forthcoming. Here we learn that the
word has been in use by the U.S. military since the eighteenth century
and in civilian use since the nineteenth. Priest tells us that a
furlough usually lasts thirty days and is intended to facilitate
service personnel making a family visit. Frank Sinatra and Gene
Kelly’s twenty four hour, musical sojourn in New York City in ‘On The
Town’, therefore, doesn’t qualify as a furlough.

Meanwhile, a lavishly illustrated little book called, ‘Rank And File –
Military and Naval Expressions and Their Origins’ sheds some light on
where the word furlough came from. “Leave of absence from duty covered
by the term ‘furlough’ was first recorded in English in the
seventeenth century”, it tells us.

And the origin? The Dutch word ‘verlof’ which is, in turn, related to
the German ‘verlaub’. Both words simply mean, ‘leave’.