Extra Lex: 14 Food and Beverage Words with Arabic Origins

imageAn  alcoholic’s first nip of the morning may be called an “eye opener,” but who would have thought that the word “alcohol” derived from a term related to eyeliner?  Get the scoop here: http://shar.es/N9myH

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Extra Lex: A Three-Letter Word That Defies Definition

It’s a common word with only three letters. But can you define “art”?

To Plato, art was imitation of nature, but in the 19th century, photography took over that function, and in the 20th, abstract art overturned the whole notion that art was about representation. And although art meant skill early on, conceptual artists elevated ideas over execution. So what is art? Does it have to be beautiful? Expressive? Original? Uplifting? Intellectual? Here’s how 27 artists, critics, and others answered the question, “What is art?”


Paris Photo20140427_174833


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Extra Lex: Treacherous Look-Alike Words in Spanish and English

According to an old ditty, “Spanish is a funny language where ropa isn’t rope, sopa isn’t soap and the butter is meant t’ kill ya.” Here are 48 more examples of Spanish-English “false friends”:


Spanish-English faux amis


Incidentally, mantequilla, butter, is the diminutive of manteca, lard.

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Lexie and Election Electricity

“Does that answer your question, ma’am?” Ms. Khan said into her phone. I hadn’t realized she had me on speaker. She looked down at the phone. Apparently Mrs. Big was responding by text.

“Thanks, Ms. Kahn. My employer says she sees how the different meanings of spring fit together. You don’t have to explain about the coiled metal type; she sees how it bounces up like the spring of water. She has another question now.”

I squeezed the envelope of cash. “Sure. Shoot.”

“She wants to know if elect and electric are related.”

“Is it true the reason her corporation is supplying electronic voting machines for several states has less to do with profits than with swaying elections?”

Election 512px-Urna_eletrônica

She wagged her finger at me. “No you didn’t. You didn’t try to use the old ‘How did you know? I didn’t; you just told me’ trope on me. I never revealed the identity of my employer.”

“You got me there. OK. No, the two words are not related. Elect is from Latin ēlectus, past participle of ēligĕre to pick out, choose. Eligĕre breaks into ē- out, and legĕre to chose, from the Indo-European root leg-, to collect.

Electric originally meant ‘possessing the property (first observed in amber) of developing static electricity when rubbed. It comes from post-classical Latin electricus of amber, amber-like, which is from classical Latin ēlectrum amber, ultimately from Greek ēlektron.”

“If elect means to choose, it must be related to select,” she said.

“Mmm-hmm. From the Latin verb seligere with the same root, legere, preceded by se- ‘apart’ instead of ē- out. Basically the same thing. The root leg- appears in a lot of other words you wouldn’t think are related. But I’ll have another Frappuccino before we get into that.


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Extra Lex: Retronyms for when you’re talking old school

If Don Draper of “Mad Men” asked his secretary to place the GM file on his desktop near the dashboard icon, she might wonder what joker got him a plastic figurine for his car. Those terms have different meaning since computers revolutionized offices, so we need “retronyms” to refer to the old technology.

Lexie’s alter ego discusses retronyms at Mental Floss.


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Extra Lex: Century-Old Words

If you took our 100-Year-Old Words quiz, you may recognize some of these, but it’s hard to believe these words have been around for a century. Imagine Mr Selfridge spouting some of these words and phrases.


        Harry Gordon Selfridge circa 1910. Wikipedia


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Extra Lex: Debunking Myths about Phrase Origins

A widely-circulated email called “Little History Lesson” gets the history of phrases like “big wig,” “to cost an arm and a leg” and “mind your own beeswax” all wrong. Here are the true stories from Mental Floss.

big wig 150669241_0


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