In a struggle to be happy and free

Drystone Wall

Category: etymologies

When are you most active?

I sometimes look up something on Wikipedia, and after reading and following links for twenty minutes, find myself goodness knows where. Surely you know what I mean.

In this particular instance, I was looking up something about cats. I learned that their schedules are quite flexible and depend on their circumstances, though house cats are most active in the morning and evening because that’s when we are most active in many households.

This brought me to some new words. You know the first:

Nocturnal — active at night. From the Latin nocturnum, meaning ‘night.’

Diurnal — active during the day. From the Latin diurnus, meaning ‘daily.’

Crepuscular — active at dawn and dusk. From the Latin crepusculum, meaning ‘twilight.’

And more specifically,

Matutinal — active at dawn. From the Latin matutinus, meaning ‘morning.’

Vespertine — active at dusk. From the Latin vesper, meaning ‘evening.’

So most house cats are largely crepuscular. This definition also explains the title of the Thelonious Monk composition, Crepuscule with Nellie.

Knowledge is cool!


Ever wonder why they named the short-range wireless communication protocol ‘Bluetooth’? I have, but I never thought to look it up. Then I hear on an episode of Cash Cab that it was named for a king of Norway or something. How does that make any sense? The site sorts it out:

‘Bluetooth’ was the code name for the SIG when it was first formed and the name stuck. The name “Bluetooth” is actually very old! It is from the 10th century Danish King Harald Blåtand — or Harold Bluetooth in English. King Blåtand was instrumental in uniting warring factions in parts of what is now Norway, Sweden and Denmark — just as Bluetooth technology is designed to allow collaboration between different business sectors such as the computing, mobile phones and automotive industries.

The story doesn’t end there. According to the Wikipedia entry on Bluetooth, the logo is a combination of Harald’s initials in Younger Futhark runes. The particular runes are Hagall and Bjarkan, respectively, as you see to the left.


Logo and runes courtesy of Wikipedia.

Pakistan, an etymology

In looking up “Pakistan” in Wikipedia for my previous post, I learned something interesting. Choudhary Rahmat Ali, Founder of Pakistan National Movement, published a pamphlet called Now or Never in 1933 in which he called for the creation of a new state from part of the north of India. This pamphlet was also the first time the name of the country-to-be, Pakistan, was used in print.

In the document, he appeals to the reader

on behalf of our thirty million Muslim brethren who live in PAKISTAN by which we mean the five Northern units of India viz: Punjab, North-West Frontier Province (Afghan Province), Kashmir, Sind, and Baluchistan.

Let me add some bold to the list so you can see it more clearly:

Punjab, Afghania, Kashmir, Sindh, and Balochistan.

Neat, eh?

Fill your boots

Spying a candy dish, you might ask if you can have a piece. In my experience, if you’re asking a Newfoundlander, the odds are significant that the response will be “Fill your boots.” It’s apparently a common expression on the island meaning, “help yourself” or “feel free.”

Curious, I decided to find out if I could find the origin of the phrase. Although I discovered a number of candidates, none seem like the perfect origin.

A bottle of rum

My favourite appears as a comment by VS Prasad on in response to a question about the meaning of the phrase. It says,

At the HMS Victory museum in Portsmouth UK, you can buy a thick leather cup lined with pitch. This is a replica of the sailor’s mug used on board in Nelson’s time, and it was used (among other things) for the rum ration when issued. This cup is called a “boot”, since boots are made with leather. When things were good and you got an extra rum ration, sailors were told “Fill Yer Boots”!

The problem is if the flasks were known as boots, I’d express the phrase to be “fill your boot” unless the sailors were given a ration large enough to require more than one.


The same commenter also suggests:

Wetting your pants and “filling your boots” after a fright

While this makes sense, I’ve never heard the phrase used this way. Strike.

Shoes, not boots

In a number of places I’ve seen it suggested as an alternate to “fill your shoes” meaning the act of taking someone’s place in a job or other position. I’ve never heard the phrase used this way either. Strike.

Boots are the new suitcase

Quizmonster suggests,

The idea of ‘filling your boots’ almost certainly dates back to the days when a victorious army would plunder the places they had recently attacked and defeated. Obviously, the soldiers would stuff their pockets, saddle-bags or whatever and then — so as not to miss anything — even their boots with booty…

What sort of plunder could you carry away in your boots? The only thing I can imagine is coins, and that’s still not a satisfactory answer. Coins are heavy. Strike.


Another suggestion by VS Prasad claims,

the phrase originated with the english Cavaliers, who wore thigh-high riding boots. When drinking, rather than stepping outside to relieve himself, a Cavalier apparently had the option of doing so into his boots. Thus, “filling his boots” meant he could drink all he wanted without leaving the table.

That’s just nasty. Can you imagine the condition of the boots if subjected to this treatment on a regular basis? Nasty. I question its accuracy as well, because unless you’re standing, the ‘filling’ is as likely to run onto the floor as it into the boot. This is ignoring the obvious fact that unless the boot is going to be high enough to reach the very top of one’s thigh, the filling is going to be an error-prone operation even when standing.

Certainly the first image that comes to my mind upon hearing the phrase is one’s boots filling with some sort of liquid, but I have a hard time believing it was brought into popular usage because people actually did this.

Regardless, the phrase still amuses me.


The CBC article, “Boycotts and bans: People power or pointless?” by Daniel Lak, discusses the effectiveness of boycotts. Of course, this topic is newsworthy because an increasing number of people are suggesting the boycott of the Beijing Olympics as a response to China’s actions in Tibet.

Permit me to skip all the topical information and reproduce the first four paragraphs of the article.

Pity poor Charles Boycott.

Not only did angry farm tenants in Ireland force him to flee the country in 1880, they gave him etymological immortality.

An English soldier and land agent, Boycott tried to face down the wrath of tenant farmers who wanted lower rents on fields owned by Lord Earne in County Mayo. Boycott had the full might of the British imperial state behind him.

Instead of fighting, the tenants simply ostracized their land agent. They refused to meet him, talk to him, repair his house, work on the roads or fulfil any of their obligations under tenancy agreements. They “boycotted” Boycott, and their roaring success gave the English language a very useful word.

Cool. I love that stuff. I had no idea ‘boycott’ was an eponym.

The Wikipedia entry on the word goes in to further detail, if you’re interested.

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