present, n., adj., & v. [noun and adjective: prez-uhnt, prěz-ənt; verb: pri-zent, prĭ-zěnt]
-After the lovely gift-giving season, what better word is there to look at than present? But what about the verb present 'to give, to show,' the noun present 'the here and now, this moment,' and the adjective present 'happening here and now, immediate?' They all started out as Latin præesse 'be before (something), be at hand,' a compound word formed from the prefix præe 'before' and the root esse 'to be.' From this point, the etymologies branch a bit. For the noun present 'a gift,' the original Latin præsse created præsens 'being there,' which created the phrase in re præsenti 'in the situation in question.' Out of this was developed Late Latin impræsenti 'face to face,' which became Old French en present 'to offer,' with present meaning 'in or into the presence of.' Around 1200 CE or so, Middle English borrowed present to describe something given as a gift. The verb present 'to bring into the presence of, to show' came shortly after (probably before 1300) as Middle English presenten 'to give or offer, to introduce or exhibit,' and was linked to Old French in the same way as the previously mentioned noun form. The adjective present 'being at hand, existing at this time,' was borrowed into Middle English around 1303 from Old French present as well as a learned borrowing directly from the Latin source. The second noun form present 'this point in time' was the latest of the four forms to appear, appearing a bit before 1500.
stuff and nonsense
-Used as a singular phrase meaning 'rubbish, nonsense,' this expression was first recorded in an 1827 issue of the British newspaper The Times. It appeared in an article about a parliamentary debate, which said: "He had at once to declare, that all notions of concerting and of dictating to the King in the exercise of his prerogative, was mere stuff and nonsense." [italics added] The use of nonsense in this phrase is obvious, so people tend to be most confused about the addition of stuff. Simply put, stuff acts as an intensifier for nonsense, in effect doubling how ridiculous or nonsensical the referred subject is.
Christmas, n. [kris-muhs, krĭs-məs]
-This holiday is both ancient and modern, religious and secular. It first appears in our language during the time of Old English, when it was simply called the Cristes mæsse 'Christ's mass or festival,' a mass being the religious service performed by a priest in front of (later involving) the community members. By late Middle English and beginning in at least the 14th century, the name for this holy day was shortened to the single word Cristemas. When the name Cristes was altered to Christ during the 15th century, it was also changed in the name of the holiday, resulting in Christmas. As for the infamous Xmas, this was in no way meant to delete the name of Jesus from the holiday. The earliest known use is recorded as Xres mæsse from the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, which dates from 1100, long before Cristes mæsse as the proper name had even been joined into one word. Xres was derived from Xr-, one of the two early ways of shortening Cristes (the other being Xp-)from Greek Christos. In actual Greek, Christos is written as Χριστός, so the Xr- (or Xp-) is just the first letter of his name. We don't see any form of Xmas as one word until the mid-1500's.
Merry Christmas to everyone here who celebrates it, and a belated Happy Hanukkah, Merry Yule, and early Happy Kwanzaa! I'm happy to report that I have the next week off, so I'll only be posting on occasion here. Everyone take care and enjoy the festive time of year!
yesterday, n. [yes-ter-dey, yěs-tər-dā]
-Though the requester correctly noted that yesterday and yeast have similar pronunciations and spellings, they are not in fact related. Yesterday is first seen as a single word in a document from about 1250 CE, being spelled as yisterdai. It was formed from the Old English compound noun geostran dæg 'yesterday day' (c. 950), with geostran being first recorded on its own around 725. While geostran was originally sufficient on its own, over time it became absolutely paired with dæg. Interestingly, though many of the cognates of Old English geostran have equivalent definitions, several mean 'tomorrow' or both 'yesterday' and 'tomorrow': Middle Low German gistern 'yesterday,' Middle Dutch ghisteren 'yesterday,' Old Norse gær 'tomorrow, yesterday,' Gothic gistradagis 'tomorrow.' All of these stem from Proto-Germanic gestra 'the other day,' which could refer to either before or after the present day, leading to the dichotomous definitions in the daughter languages. The Germanic root is thought to have descended from prehistoric Indo-European ghes-, which also created Sanskrit hyah, Avestan zyo, Persian di, Greek khthes, Old Irish indhe, and Welsh doe, all meaning 'yesterday' or 'an indistinct past time.' Let's not forget Latin heri 'yesterday' and hesternus 'of yesterday,' the founder of French hier and several other words for 'yesterday' in the Romance languages.
yeast, n. [yeest, yēst]
-Though we now consider yeast to be any fungi of the genus Saccharomyces (especially S. cerevisiae), which reproduces by budding and from ascospores and is capable of fermenting carbohydrates, Middle English yest, yeest specifically referred to the froth of fermenting beer. The Middle English term was developed from Late Old English gist ' yeast,' which first appeared around 1000 CE. Scholars are not sure of the Germanic ancestor of our English word, but they do believe it to be a Western Germanic word that also produced Middle High German gest 'foam, froth' and Old High German jesan 'to ferment.' Whatever the source is, it sprung from prehistoric Indo-European jes-, yes-.
If anyone knows the definition of this PIE root, would you please let us know? I've been searching for about an hour now but just can't find it. I think this calls for a new reference book purchase. :)
fine, adj. & n. [fahyn, fīn]
-Depending on its part of speech, fine can have seemingly very different definitions, though their histories meet up in one common ancestor. Starting with the adjective, fine 'of high quality, superior' was first recorded in English around 1250 CE as Middle English as fin 'free of blemish, refined, pure.' It was directly borrowed from Old French fin 'perfected, of highest quality,' which itself came from Latin finis 'the end, limit' in the sense of 'peak, acme, supreme state.' Scholars have also found traces of this Romantic root in Old High German fin and Middle Dutch fijn. The history of the noun form of fine, defined as 'money paid in penalty,' follows the exact same path through French and Latin but took a slightly different interpretation of the Latin base. Starting with the meaning of Latin finis as 'the end, the limit,' Old French adapted it to the noun form of fin 'the end, the conclusion.' Once again around 1250, the first known usage of Middle English fin 'ending, termination' was recorded. By 1399, it had developed from a general meaning of payment (to end a deal or interaction) to our modern sense of 'payment as punishment for an offense.'