Language is an inspiring thing. Nearly every word contains a titbit of geographic and cultural history of the people who utter it.
I write a blog. But where does the word blog come from? Well that’s an easy one. Blog is a shortened form of the term web-log. The web-log was created as an online, public journal which is displayed chronologically. It’s a log or journal that’s on the web.
But where does the word log come from? A log is a detailed record of day-to-day events. The term comes from military history where the crews of aircraft and ships before that would record the events of the day in a book. According to Star-Trek, this military terminology will continue into the 24th century. Most episodes of Star-Trek began with “Captain’s Log. Star-date 24.55. . .”
But why are these books called logs? Well long before GPS, when seamen wanted to calculate the speed at which their ship was traveling, they used a piece of equipment called a chip log. A chip log is a quadrant shaped piece of wood attached to a spool of string. The string has evenly spaced knots all along it to enable the measurement of distance. The chip log is thrown out into the water and stays more-or-less in place as the boat sails away. By counting the knots that pass in a given time, early mariners could calculate speed. The chip-log is a more advanced version of the original piece of equipment: a log. The speed was recorded daily in a book called the log book.
But why is an unshaped tree called a log? Well there are two popular theories. Some etymologist believe that the english word log is a modified version of the Old Norse word lag meaning “a felled tree”.
Those who doubt this suspect that it’s simply a word that sounds like something big and heavy. Many nordic words in the English language follow this pattern like rock, clod, club, etc.
Unfortunately, that’s where the trail goes cold. Never forget that words aren’t just sounds you make to represent things in the world; only the consensus dictates what they mean today but the consensus is narrower than you think and today is a moment in historical time. Every word has a cloud, a cluster of denotations and connotations. To know them all is to speak and write with greater clarity.
If you know any words with wacky etymologies, or any words that puzzle you and you’d like me to look into the origins and post about, share it in the comments below.