Working (Words) Out in the Nude

Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo. Confused? This actually is a grammatically correct sentence. There are three meanings of the word Buffalo…

  1. The proper noun referring to the city Buffalo, New York
  2. The verb to buffalo, which means “to bully, harass, or intimidate”
  3. The noun referring to the animal – buffalo (biologically a Bison).

This sentence translated would read: “Buffalo (the place) bison (the animal), whom other Buffalo bison bully, themselves bully Buffalo bison.” Take a deep breath and don’t give up on this post quite yet. This oddity of the English language is a great example of etymology – the study of word origins and the way in which their meanings have changed throughout history. The average person usually doesn’t think before they speak; it is even rarer to find someone who questions the very foundations of speech itself. Mark Forsyth is one of those people – the author of the #1 International Bestseller – The Etymologicon: A Circular Stroll Through the Hidden Connections of the English Language. The title “Etymologicon” is a real word that means a book written about etymology. Forsyth is a word master, and his work became a #1 International Bestseller. All words have a history, and those histories are fascinating. Below I am going to highlight the origin of ten words that were detailed by Forsyth in his book. These are just a few examples of what is in the book, and if your curiosity is piqued, I highly recommend you reading it for yourself.

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  1. A long time ago there was a tribe named the “Franks.” The Franks invaded the Gauls whose occupied area became known as “France” – the K replaced with a C. The Franks “disenfranchised” the Gauls and hence were themselves “enfranchised.” This oppression by the Franks allowed them to speak freely or “frankly.”
  2. A long time ago, there was a significant swath of persecuted people in Eastern Europe known as the Slavs. The Slavs were slain and subjugated by the Byzantine Empire to the south and the Holy Roman Empire to the north. Eventually, the word Slav became synonymous with forced labor – or Slave.
  3. A long time ago, in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, there were lords and peasants. The peasant was required to work the lords’ land and a small portion of his own which was granted to him. This mindless labor system was called Robot.giphy3
  4. A long time ago, Englishmen had trouble with persistent coughs. They could take morphine – a standard treatment at the time – but they didn’t want to become addicted. Scientists came to the rescue and invented a morphine substitute. This new medicine needed a brand name so the marketers asked the test participants how it made them feel. They all unanimously said it made them feel great and like “heroes.” Heroe was turned into the brand name Heroin.
  5. A long time ago, Hitler formed the National Socialist German Worker’s Party (Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei); the official identification of all Hitler followers in Germany. This Party name was unfortunate because in Germany there were many jokes about Bavarian peasants who were seen as stupid and lazy. The identifier of this class of peasant was the typical male name Ignatius – or its shortened version – Nazi. Hitler’s opponents jumped at the insult and abbreviated Hitler’s party name.
  6. A long time ago, medieval doctors believed the vein on the fourth finger ran directly to the heart. This anatomical connection eventually proved false, but the tradition of encircling the heart through the vein continued on – with the ring finger and the wedding band.giphy4
  7. A long time ago, monks were a common sight in Catholic Europe – hooded men who were far from models of chastity and virtue. Many saw them as filthy sinners who were no better than animals. When explorers decided to name hairy-man-like animals, they used a similar name – Monkeys.
  8. A long time ago, America decided to test a new hydrogen bomb in the Pacific Ocean. This weapon was more potent than previous – incidentally exposing Japanese fisherman to radiation. This event inspired the movie Godzilla and a French clothes designer who needed a name for his scandalous swimwear – which would cause an explosion of lust in all Frenchmen. This explosion would be named after the bomb test site – Bikini Atoll.
  9. A long time ago, Greek men enjoyed exercising outside in the nude. This arena of flesh was frequented by old and young alike – the older participants came primarily for sightseeing. The Greek word for naked is “gymnós” which eventually gave us Gyms and Gymnasiums. 
  10. A long time ago, people wanted to buy a house and hence needed a loan. There were two ways this loan could be fulfilled or said in another way – be put to “death”: it was paid off over a lifetime, or it was canceled after a missed payment. In many cases, it was doubtful that the person would make all these lifetime payments and so the loan would be dead to him. In either outcome, there was the likelihood of death, and hence the loan was called a death pledge – Mortgage. giphy5

So does this make you more curious about the words you use every day? I for sure look at diction differently now. Just remember that word meanings change over time and that new words are continually being invented. Don’t get too stringent with etymology and hop on the treadmill in the buff.

What Is Your Sleep Animal?

I have always been a diva when it comes to sleep. As a boy, I never wanted to have sleepovers because I would want to go to bed early when everyone else wanted to hangout until dawn. One prime example was my 7th birthday, when I left my party early (which was in the basement) to go sleep in my bedroom, leaving my Mom to entertain 10 sugar-crazed boys. For the same reasons, I didn’t like going to overnight camps or camping in a tent where I knew adequate sleep would escape me. In my young mind, the boys who could sleep anywhere were the boys who grew up to be the cool guys. They were the guys who could close out a party, watch a movie marathon, and go for a midnight swim. I was always in bed before my parents (even in the weekends) and I still usually go to bed before everyone in my family. When I do sleep I need a solid 9 hours to function and ideally 10 would be perfect. This somewhat pathological need for sleep has shaped my life and my daily activities. Do you want to wake up early and workout? No. Do you want to go see the midnight premiere? No. Do you want to go get drinks after dinner? No. Do you want to join a morning book club? No. My window of ideal sleep is between 10:00 pm to 8:00 am. If I deviate too much from that window I will be a zombie for the next day and possibly the whole week. I know I am a high maintenance sleeper and my obsession with sleep led me to read The Power of When by Michael Breus, PhD.

There are four types of sleepers: Bears, Lions, Wolfs, and Dolphins. Bears make up 50% of the population and wake up naturally with the rhythms of the sun – not going to bed too late and not waking up too early. Lions, naturally morning hunters, make up 20% of the population and are the people who rise very early and accomplish a ton of things before Bears even begin to hit the snooze button. Wolves, naturally nocturnal hunters, are the late-night prowlers who probably best fit my description of the “Cool Guy.” Dolphins, which sleep with only half their brain at a time, make up 10% of the population. Dolphins are the people who would normally be described as insomniacs; they have difficulty falling asleep, they are easily awoken, and they struggle to get more than 6 hours of sleep a night. What sleep animal are you? To take an accurate quiz on the author’s site, click the link here. I am a Bear but I think a better description would be a Koala Bear – they sleep a crap ton. Most of the people I know are Bears but I do know a Wolf (shout out to Megan) and a Lioness (shout out to Ashley). I still have yet to meet a Dolphin but I think my wife is some weird combination of a Panda Bear riding on top of a leaping Porpoise. I think the biggest take away from this book is to put sleep on the top of your priority list. If you struggle to get enough sleep because you like to stay up late, try turning off all electronics one hour before bedtime. You really need 5 complete sleep cycles to get a healthy nights rest; each sleep cycle is an average 90 minutes long so that equals about 7.5 hours a night. People may have longer cycles or shorter cycles but most people know their sweet spot when it comes to a great nights rest.

Peruse the website and check out the specific recommendations for each sleep type. Just remember, without sleep, your brain and body are at a significant health handicap – limiting your full animal potential.