Tuesday, April 10, 2012



A lot of people know what this word means, but they may not know where it comes from.  Back in the old, ancient days, the philosophers thought everything in the world was made up of one of four elements: air, fire, earth, and water.  But none of these four elements really seemed to explain what all the amazing things up in the sky, such as stars and plants, were made of.  So the philosophers decided that these heavenly bodies were made of a fifth element, or essence, which was higher and more pure than the other four.

So this fifth essence was called pempte ousia in Greek, and it was translated into Medieval Latin as quinta essentia.  In Old French, it was quinte essence, and finally about 1400, the word became quintessence in Middle English.  Since then, this word has evolved to mean the purest, most perfect, and most concentrated essence of something.


This is a word from Scotland and northern England.  It can be used as a verb meaning "to feel disgust or aversion" or "to be in a state of disgusted irritation."  Another way to use scunner is as a noun, usually in the phrase "take a scunner to."  Also a scunner can be the object of your dislike or a nuisance.  For example, my doggy brothers can be real scunners sometimes!

The history of this word is that it came from the Middle English word skunner, which meant "to shrink back in disgust," and also from the word scurnen, "to flinch."  The first known use of scunner was in the 14th century.


If you have ever seen one of those movies about ancient Romans fighting wars, you might have seen the soldiers make a testudo.  And the way they make it is they all hold up their shields and overlap them, so that they have a nice little roof to keep the nasty arrows and lances and rocks and stuff from hitting them.  It's really very clever, if you ask me.  Another type of testudo is a sort of roof on wheels that the soldiers could stay under when they were going up to the walls of a city that they were attacking.

The word testudo means a tortoise or tortoise shell in Latin.  The word was first used in 1609.


An interrobang is a punctuation mark that combines a question mark and an exclamation point.  It is used to show that you are asking a question in an excited way.  You might have written sentences that have both marks at the end, but maybe you didn't know there was an actual name for this.

A question mark can also be called an "interrogative point," and printers call an exclamation point a "bang," so when you put these two terms together, you get interrobang.  This new form of punctuation was invented in 1962 by Martin Speckter, who was the head of a New York advertising agency.  Mr. Speckter got the idea of putting the question mark and exclamation point right on top of each other instead of side by side.

At first, this new symbol was pretty popular, but after a while, people stopped using it.  And by the time Mr. Speckter died in 1988, the interrobang was just another fad that had gone away.  There are still some people who use it, like cartoonists, for example, or people who are just writing fun stuff to each other.  But what people use now is mostly the two symbols beside each other and not the combined symbol.  Because when you look at the symbols written on top of each other, they just look weird.  Or at least that's my opinion!

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