The English language grabs from other languages without compunction. Unlike the French, who apparently went through pains to come up with a French derived word for Internet, we blithely take any foreign word and, with little to no alteration, drop it into our lexicon. Open up an unabridged dictionary, and you’ll encounter the likes of mukluk, bungalow, whigmaleerie, and orangutan, which come from the Eskimo language Yupik, Hindi, Scots English, and Indonesian, respectively. (None of these are GRE words, by the way).
Of course, many words from other language are better at camouflaging their overseas origins (the French camouflage being one). But for today’s Vocab Wednesday, I want to shine a light on the ‘whigmaleeries’–words that look like fanciful beasts out of Tolkien, but actually sprung to life on foreign ground.
Speaking of fanciful beasts … a menagerie is a collection of wild animals usually for exhibit. A pet store is a menagerie of reptiles and fish; a zoo is a menagerie of African mammals. The broader meaning of menagerie, which originally came from French, is any collection of heterogeneous elements. Take English: a veritable menagerie of the world’s languages.
Accounting firms “cooking the books”, witnesses lying on the court stand, and governments involved in elaborate cover-ups are all guilty of skulduggery. A word that comes from the Scottish dialect, skulduggery describes any unscrupulous behavior.
A few months back, the governor of New Jersey, Chris Christie, got into some skullduggery that he probably hoped would remain a skeleton in the closet. Well, somebody within his organization opened the closet the door, leaking to the press that Governor Christie—or at least somebody very high up in his organization—had intentionally shut down a major road and tunnel into New York City. The motive: to get revenge on citizens who lived near the tunnel—citizens who had not supported Christie in his election bid.
So Christie, whatever his relative merits may be, was caught up in an imbroglio, a confusing and embarrassing situation—one that will probably cost him his career. Imbroglio, by the way, comes from the Italian imbrogliare, which means to confuse.
Each group has its particular sayings and beliefs — stuff that can usually be summed up in a catchphrase. That catchphrase is known as a shibboleth, which comes from Hebrew. Don’t worry! You don’t have to know any Hebrew to be familiar with any shibboleths. Take something as common as politics. Each party has its own mottos and creeds that can easily be reduced to a few words: “War is bad” is a shibboleth of the left, and “the government that governs least is the government that governs best” is a shibboleth from the right.