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16 Latin Question Words Hiding in the English Language

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Latin is ubiquitous in English. As Dictionary.com observes, “About 80 percent of the entries in any English dictionary are borrowed, mainly from Latin.” That even includes some of ancient Rome’s most nut-and-bolts words, like quid, “what,” quis, “who,” and the ubi in ubiquitous, meaning “where.” Here are 16 English words constructed from some of the most basic building blocks of the Latin language.

1. QUALITY

Quality derives from the Latin qualitas, “character” or “essential nature.” The great Roman statesman Cicero coined it, on the basis of qualis (“of what kind”), to translate a word the Greek philosopher Plato himself created: poiotes, “suchness.”

2. QUANTITY

A quantity is the “amount” of something, just like its Latin root, quantitas. This word is formed from quantus, “how much,” also the source of quantum.

3. QUIDDITY

No, this word doesn’t size up your Quidditch skills. It literally means “whatness,” formed from the Latin quid, or “what.” Quiddity was introduced as a philosophical term in the Middle Ages for “what makes a thing what it is.” In the 16th century, English writers apparently mocked scholars’ overuse of the term, turning it into a term for a quibble.

4. QUIBBLE

Speaking of quibbles, the earliest sense of quibble, recorded in the 1610s, is as a “pun” or “play on words.” The word not long after took on its modern sense of an “objection to a trivial matter.” Quibble appears to be a diminutive form of the older quib, “an evasion of a point at issue.” The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) suggests quib comes from the Latin quibus (“by what things”), a form of quid (“what”), “a word of frequent occurrence in legal documents and hence associated with the length and unnecessary complexity of legal documents.”

5. QUIP

Originally a “sarcastic remark” before softening to a “witticism,” quip might be from the Latin quippe, apparently used much like “Oh really?” Quippe is also based on quid (“what”), the neuter form of quis (“who”).

6. QUIDNUNC

A quidnunc is a fancy word for a “gossiper.” It’s from the Latin quid nunc, literally “what now,” which clever English speakers adopted for the incessant questioning of a nosy person.

7. QUID

We’ve seen Latin’s quid (“what”) already in a number of words. It may also be responsible for the British slang quid, or “one pound sterling,” used much as the American English buck. One of the leading explanations is that quid is shortened from the Latin expression quid pro quo, “one thing for another,” or an exchange, hence its application to money.

8. QUANDARY

The origin of quandary is, well, quite a quandary. A number of etymologists have proposed quandary as a quasi-Latin expression for some kind of dilemma of donation: quantum dare (“How much to give?”), quando dare (“When to give?”), or quam dare (“How to give?”).

9. CUE

The Latin quando (“when”) may also be the source of cue, which signals an actor to begin their lines. A 1553 letter, among other examples in the 16th and 17th centuries, refers to a Q marked in actor’s text of a play, which has been explained as an abbreviation for a Latin word such as quando, or “when” the actor should start.

10. QUOTIENT

In mathematics, a quotient is what you get when you divide. The word is from the Latin quotiens, “how many times,” i.e., how many times one number goes into another.

11. QUOTE

The base of Latin’s quotiens is quot, “how many.” From this, Medieval Latin formed a verb, quotare, “to mark chapters” or “mark a book with numbers.” This is also what quote first meant when it was borrowed into English in the late 14th century. It evolved to “reproduce a passage from a book” to “give as a reference, support, or source” to “repeat or copy out exact words.”

12. QUOTIDIAN

Quot also shows up in quotidian, which is something “happening every day,” hence “ordinary.” It’s from the Latin quotidianus, which joined quot (“how many”) and dies (“day”).

13. QUORUM

A quorum is the minimum number of people who must be present at an assembly, a word we typically hear in the context of legislatures. It literally means “of whom” in Latin, and was originally used by 15th-century commissions in official language appointing select justices of the peace, who had to be present for a court session to be considered valid.

14. UBIQUITY

Latin roots have been ubiquitous in this post, or “everywhere.” Ubiquity was coined—on the model of Latin’s ubique, “anywhere” or “everywhere”—in the 16th century for a Christian theological doctrine that held God as omnipresent.

15. HIDALGO

So far, most of the words haven’t been hiding their “who” and “what” Latin roots. Not so for the final two. Hidalgo, a Spanish term for a “gentleman” and the name of a state in Mexico, is contracted from hijo de algo, “son of something” (think, a real someone). The algo comes from Latin’s aliquis, “anyone” or “someone,” which quis we previously saw in quip.

16. KICKSHAW

Finally, and most surprisingly, we have kickshaw, a “fancy but unsubstantial food dish.” This lively word is from the French quelque chose, “a little something.” As the OED explains, a kickshaw, adopted in the late 16th century, “was ‘something’ French, not one of the known ‘substantial’ English dishes.” The quelque in quelque chose goes back to the Latin qualis—the same qualis, to bring things full circle, we saw in quality.

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Here's the Right Way to Pronounce Kitchenware Brand Le Creuset

If you were never quite sure how to pronounce the name of beloved French kitchenware brand Le Creuset, don't fret: For the longest time, southern chef, author, and PBS personality Vivian Howard wasn't sure either.

In this video from Le Creuset, shared by Food & Wine, Howard prepares to sear some meat in her bright orange Le Creuset pot and explains, "For the longest time I had such a crush on them but I could never verbalize it because I didn’t know how to say it and I was so afraid of sounding like a big old redneck." Listen closely as she demonstrates the official, Le Creuset-endorsed pronunciation at 0:51.

Le Creuset is known for its colorful, cast-iron cookware, which is revered by pro chefs and home cooks everywhere. The company first introduced their durable pots to the world in 1925. Especially popular are their Dutch ovens, which are thick cast-iron pots that have been around since the 18th century and are used for slow-cooking dishes like roasts, stews, and casseroles.

[h/t Food & Wine]

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The Early 20th Century Society That Tried to Make English Spelling More Intuitive
George Bernard Shaw, a member of the Simplified Spelling Soesiety
George Bernard Shaw, a member of the Simplified Spelling Soesiety
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The English language is notorious for complex spelling rules—and the many words that break them. We all know i comes before e, except, of course, in certain weird words like, well, weird. We pronounce the letter i like eye if the word ends in an e—except in words like give. Unsurprisingly, even native English speakers get fed up with the inanity of the language’s complicated spelling conventions, and there have been several pushes to replace them with something a little more intuitive over the centuries, as The Public Domain Review highlights.

At the beginning of the 20th century, the London-based Simplified Speling Soesiety was one of the groups pushing for a more logical system of English spelling. Its journal, first published in 1912, refers to standard English spelling as "in sum waiz unreezonabl and retrograid.” So the group went about coming up with new ways to spell common words itself, hoping its alternate approach would catch on.

The Pioneer ov Simplified Speling contained a pronunciation guide, but many of its alternative spellings can be deciphered fairly easily. As long as you peruse carefully, that is. Reading through the publication feels like stumbling through an archaic text from hundreds of years ago, rather than something written during the 20th century.

A pronunciation guide from the 'Pioneer of Simplified Speling'
The Pioneer of Simplified Speling

Go ahead and wade into how the group, founded in 1908, explained its mission in the first edition of The Pioneer:

The aim ov the Soesiety nou iz tu plais befor the public cleer staitments ov the cais against the curent speling, tu sho hou seerius ar the consecwensez ov yuezing it, and hou much wood be gaind, if sum such sceem az that ov the Soesiety wer adopted.

Did you get all that?

The debut edition of the quirky journal, which you can read on the Internet Archive, includes not just the group’s mission statement and goals, but birthday congratulations to the Society’s founding president, aggregated updates about spelling in the news (like that in an interview, British chemist Sir William Ramsay mentioned a German child never making a spelling mistake), the announcement of the group’s annual meeting (at which members would submit new simplified spellings for discussion), and other minor spelling-related notes.

The whole thing is truly a treasure.

Fed-up readers and writers have been trying to wrangle English spelling conventions into something more manageable for essentially as long as there have been standardized spellings. Benjamin Franklin was a spelling reformer during his lifetime, as was Theodore Roosevelt. Soesiety member George Bernard Shaw went so far as to leave his estate in a trust dedicated to reforming the English alphabet when he died.

Though the spelling reformers of yore didn't find much mainstream acceptance for their ideas, there are still modern orthography obsessives who want to revamp the English spelling system to make it easier to learn. And they have a point: For English-speaking children, learning to read and write takes years longer than it does for kids learning to read in languages with easier spelling rules, like Finnish. Considering that one study of 7000 different English words found that 60 percent of them had irregularly used letters, it’s a wonder any of us English speakers have learned to read at all. If only the Simplified Speling Soesiety had gotten its way back in the early 1900s, maybe we would have an easier time of it.

[h/t The Public Domain Review]

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