Ridiculous Etymologies: New York Times Edition

Folk etymology is a long-lived tradition empowering writers to fabricate etymological explanations to suit their current interpretive and argumentative needs.

Procrastinate: To be In favor of Being Out of Control from the New York Times, March 25, 2019.


Here’s what those joyless pedants of the Oxford English Dictionary have to say about it:

Procras OED


Just in case you were wondering, the ancient Romans and Greeks did have the concept of procrastination. Here are some passages I collected about it.

But where would we be without hermeneutically adventurous lexicography? Plato makes it a centerpiece of his Cratylus! And we have dictionaries dedicated to it:

“Lipless Achilles” Kallierges, Etymologicum Magnum 182

“Akhilleus: [this name comes from] lessening grief, for Achilles was a doctor. Or it is because of the woe, which is pain, he brought to his mother and the Trojans. Or it is from not touching his lips to food [khilê]. For he had no serving of milk at all, but was fed with stag-marrow by Kheiron. This is why he was hailed by the Myrmidons in the following way, according to Euphoriôn:

He came to Phthia without ever tasting any food
This is why the Myrmidons named him Achilles.”

᾿Αχιλλεύς: Παρὰ τὸ ἄχος λύειν· ἰατρὸς γὰρ ἦν. ῍Η διὰ τὸ ἄχος (ὅ ἐστι λύπην) ἐπενεγκεῖν τῇ μητρὶ καὶ τοῖς ᾿Ιλιεῦσιν. ῍Η διὰ τὸ μὴ θίγειν χείλεσι χιλῆς, ὅ ἐστι τροφῆς· ὅλως γὰρ οὐ μετέσχε γάλακτος, ἀλλὰ μυελοῖς ἐλάφων ἐτράφη ὑπὸ Χείρωνος. ῞Οτι ὑπὸ Μυρμιδόνων ἐκλήθη, καθά φησιν Εὐφορίων,

᾿Ες Φθίην χιλοῖο κατήϊε πάμπαν ἄπαστος.
τοὔνεκα Μυρμιδόνες μιν ᾿Αχιλέα φημίξαντο.

Odysseus Was Born on the Road in the Rain: Kallierges, Etymologicum Magnum 615

“The name Odysseus has been explained through the following story. For they claim that when Antikleia, Odysseus’ mother, was pregnant she was travelling [hodeuousan] on Mt. Neritos in Ithaka, and it began to rain [husantos] terribly Because of her labor and fear she collapsed and gave birth to Odysseus there. So, he obtained is name in this way, since Zeus, on the road [hodon] rained [hûsen].”

᾿Οδυσσεύς: Εἴρηται ἀπὸ ἱστορίας. ᾿Αντίκλειαν γάρ φασι τὴν ᾿Οδυσσέως μητέρα ἐγκύμονα ὁδεύουσαν τὸ Νήριτον τῆς ᾿Ιθάκης ὄρος, ὕσαντος πολὺ τοῦ Διὸς, ὑπὸ ἀγωνίας τε καὶ φόβου καταπεσοῦσαν ἀποτεκεῖν τὸν ᾿Οδυσσέα. Οὕτω ταύτης τῆς ὀνομασίας ἔτυχεν, ἐπειδὴ κατὰ τὴν ὁδὸν ὗσεν ὁ Ζεύς.

It is more typical to derive Odysseus’ name from the verb odussomai, which means something like “being hateful, being hated”.  Autolykos, Odysseus’ maternal grandfather, is reported to have named him in the Odyssey (19.407–409).

“I have come to this point hated [odussamenos] by many—
Both men and women over the man-nourishing earth.
So let his name be Ody[s]seus…”

πολλοῖσιν γὰρ ἐγώ γε ὀδυσσάμενος τόδ’ ἱκάνω,
ἀνδράσιν ἠδὲ γυναιξὶν ἀνὰ χθόνα βωτιάνειραν·
τῷ δ’ ᾿Οδυσεὺς ὄνομ’ ἔστω ἐπώνυμον…

Of Jon Snow and Aeneas I Sing…

This text was discovered inside the hollow of a golden branch. On top was written, Pius Aeneas hoc scripsit (“Pious Aeneas wrote this”). On a separate document was a message written by one P.V.M. that said, carmen tam horribile est ut cum inhumata turba vagari malim.” (“This poem is so terrible that I prefer to wander with the unburied masses”).  It is thought that after Aeneas encountered Marcellus in the underworld, he received poetry lessons from Vergil himself. From a close reading of this text, we can also infer that Aeneas met the disembodied soul of George R.R. Martin and saw a performance of Game of Thrones

P. Aeneas (?), Maior Pietate Sum, Edited by Dani Bostick

Per campum magno gemitu fremit discordia vulgi.
Corpora caesa inter fluit foedum sanguinis flumen
Nunc Rex Noctis et Albi Euntes glomerantur ut aves,
Nunc amita et coniunx, volat Daenerys vecta per auras
Serpente expirante ignem. Nunc nubibus flammae
Ex caelo volat Ioannes Nivis; eum vehit serpens.
O lux Targaryum, spes o fidissima Arcti,
Aenea maior armis pietateque claro es?
Fecerat ignipotens scutum deus? Nec tenes scutum!

Dic mihi quid muros ascenderit hostis ab Orco
Dic mihi quid Regem Noctis mortesque necarit
Femina. Sed sine telis Aeneas viribus hostes
Caedebat victorque viros supereminet omnes.
At vero ipse ensem tumido in pulmone recondit
Vi magni scuti.

Over the battlefield with a great groan the disorganized crowd roars.
A disgusting river of blood flows among the slaughtered bodies,
Now the Night King and White Walkers gather like birds,
Now aunt and consort Daenerys flies through the air
On a fire-breathing dragon. Now from clouds of flame
Out of the sky flies John Snow; a dragon carries him.

Oh light of the Targaryans, Oh most faithful hope of the North,
Are you are greater in piety and arms than famous Aeneas?
Did the all-fiery god make your shield? You do not have one!
Tell me why an enemy of shades climbed the walls!
Tell me why a woman killed the Night King and zombies!
But Aeneas used to slaughter the enemy with his
Own strength and as a victor he surpasses all men.
And he himself indeed buries the sword into the inflated chest
With his big shield energy.

The Aeneid’s Pot Brownie, Commentary on 6.420

Fragments of this lost commentary on the Aeneid were recently found near a monument to Saint Raphael. The work, dated to 420 CE, was signed only with the name “Louis.” This comment is on Book VI when Aeneas and Sibyl subdue Cerberus in the underworld. Edited by Dani Bostick

Aeneid 6.419-22

Seeing Cerberus’ neck bristling with snakes,
the priestess tosses him a treat laced with honey
and medicated grains. Opening his three throats,
rabid with hunger, he scarfs down what she tossed, and
his huge backs relax as he falls to the ground, spread
out across the entire cave.

Cui vātēs horrēre vidēns iam colla colubrīs
melle sopōrātam et medicātīs frūgibus offam 420
obicit. Ille famē rabidā tria guttura pandēns
corripit obiectam, atque immānia terga resolvit
fūsus humī tōtōque ingēns extenditur antrō.

6.420  she tosses a treat laced with honey and medicated grains

Here “treat” is a pot brownie. 420 is an extraordinary number. If one were to sail from Carthage to Alba Longa with a stop in Sicily, the journey would be 420 miles. Here, however, is not the number 420. You see, 4 is April, the fourth month of the year, and 20 is the twentieth day of the month (the 12th day before the Kalends).  On this day, almost everyone enjoys cannabis.

Ovid once wrote, “Caesar, in April you have something which might take control of you” (Fasti 4.20). He added, “Aeneas, manifest piety, carried through fire sacred things and his father on his shoulders, other sacred things.” Ovid is telling us that Aeneas imported cannabis, “sacred things,” into Italy as a trafficker of drugs. We also know that oracles use such drugs frequently.

For these reasons, the treat consumed by Cerberus was not full of opiates, but rather cannabis. Since the treat was not only drugged with honey, but with “medicated grains,” which we call “cannabis,” Cerberus immediately passes out when he eats it. When men consume cannabis, some lose their minds and rage in reefer madness, others, calm as stones, rest on the sofa and, eager for food, satisfy their hunger with snacks.


6.420  melle soporatam et medicatis frugibus offam

Hic “offam” est crustulum cannabis.

420 est numerus extraordinarius. Si quis, commoratus in Sicilia, a Karthagine ad Albam Longam navigaret, iter CDXX milium passuum esset. Hic tamen non est CDXX, sed numerus diei. Nam IV est Mensis Aprilis, quarta mensis anni; XX est vicesima dies mensis, a.d. XII Kal.  Ea die paene omnes cannibi fruuntur.

Ovidius olim scripsit: “Caesar, in Aprili, quo tenearis, habes” (4.20). addidit, “Aeneas, pietas spectata, per ignes sacra patremque humeris, altera sacra, tulit.” nobis dicit Aenean cannabim, “sacra,” in Italiam mercatorem medicamentorum portavisse. Scimus etiam vates medicamentis saepe fruari.

Quibus de causis, offa a Cerbero comesta non est plena papaverum, sed cannabis. Cum offa non modo melle, sed etiam “medicatis frugibus,” quas “cannabim” vocamus, soporata esset, Cerberus ea comesta subito obdormivit. Cum homines cannabim consumunt, alii furibundi insania cautum furiant, alii placati velut lapides in toro conquiescunt avidique cibi latrantem stomachum cenulis leniunt.  



Vide: Hesychius, s.v. kannabis

Kannabis: A Skythian herb for burning which has the kind of power that it completely dries out anything subject to it. It is a plant similar to linen from which Thracians make ropes (Cf. Herodotus 4.74.)

κάνναβις· Σκυθικὸν θυμίαμα, ὃ τοιαύτην ἔχει δύναμιν, ὥστε ἐξικμάζειν πάντα τὸν παρεστῶτα. ἔστι δὲ φυτόν τι λίνῳ ὅμοιον, ἐξ οὗ αἱ Θρᾷσσαι ἱμάτια ποιοῦσιν. ῾Ηρόδοτος (4,74)

“Kannabisthênai: to extract and burn cannabis.”

κανναβισθῆναι· πρὸς τὴν κάνναβιν ἐξιδρῶσαι καὶ πυριασθῆναι

N.B. This discovery may have been satirical. The Hesychius is real.



Newly Discovered Text: De Praefecto Petro (About Mayor Pete)

The following text of unknown authorship was recovered along with new fragments of Caesar’s lost Bellum Incivile and several pamphlets on ancient Roman fashion and etiquette.

De Praefecto Petro. Edited by Dani Bostick

As dawn rose, a young man of remarkable piety came down from heaven onto the gloomy earth for the sake of saving the republic. Since his name could not be pronounced by any mortal, he was called Mayor Pete. It was such a great miracle that some believed that he was not just similar to a god, but that he was an actual god; others believed that the 44th president had adopted him as his white son.

Many wonders and signs declared his divinity. His spouse, whose name was Mayor Pete’s Husband, was a teacher of the highest character whom students loved and respected as an example to emulate;* he was a faithful friend to two dogs, Buddy and Truman; he knew 17 languages which, they said, he was able to speak perfectly inside of a year whenever he wanted to help refugees, read a book in another language, or make a friend from another country; he also knew by heart the names of all the people who lived in the republic; and, he glows with a golden light as he helps the less fortunate. For these reasons everyone began to worship and venerate him as they begged the gods, “Do not prevent this man from rescuing our world in chaos.”

Aurora surgente egregius pietate iuvenis de caelo ad tenebrosam terram rei publicae servandae causa venit. Cum eius nomen a nullis mortalibus enuntiari possit, Praefectus Petrus appellabatur. Tantum miraculum erat ut alii Praefectum Petrum non modo similem deo sed deum ipsum, alii quadragesimum quartum consulem filium candidum adoptavisse crederent.

Multa prodigia et signa divinitatem declaraverunt. Eius coniunx, Maritus Praefecti Petri nomine, erat magister* summae virtutis quem exemplo ad imitandum suppeditato discipuli amabant verebanturque; fidus sodalis duorum canum Amici et Veritatis erat; dicebant septendecim linguas scire quas intra annum optime loqui posset cum aut auxilio profugis esse aut externi scriptoris libellum legere aut ad amicitiam peregrinorum se conferre vellet; nomina etiam omnium rei publicae civium memoria tenebat; miseris subveniens aurea in luce refulsit. Quibus de causis eum colere et venerari coeperunt omnes orantes deos, “hunc saltem everso iuvenem succurrere saeclo ne prohibete.”

*It is thought that Quintilian wrote his treatise on education after reading notes taken during a classroom observation of Mayor Pete’s Husband.

De Oniferibus, On Cargo Shorts

This leaflet was found in the pocket of an article of clothing thought to be worn by Julius Caesar in his leisure time. The garment was discovered centuries ago, but its numerous pockets weren’t completely emptied until recently. It is thought the author could be an associate of the person who wrote De Imaginibus Verendorum. Edited by Dani Bostick.

Once they have children, men consider whether it is proper to set aside the toga and wear a new kind of clothing. This kind of clothing is called “cargo shorts” because they can carry much cargo. I wrote this little pamphlet so that you might understand everything about them.

Although the gods give men two hands, men desire eight hands so that they can carry as many things as possible. Driven by an insatiable desire to carry everything, a clever man once invented cargo shorts, when, having set aside concern for aesthetics, he attached as many pockets as possible to shapeless shorts. In this way, he made an unfashionable type of clothing even more unfashionable. But because of the pockets, cargo shorts are as useful as they are unattractive. For with his hands free, he was able to carry many things more easily.

Now I will answer all of your questions:

What kinds of things can be kept in the pockets? Keys, change, tissues, business cards, medicine, knives, wallets, pens, writing pads, snacks, bottles of beer, puppies– amazing to say!

Can’t maps be kept in cargo shorts? No! You see, a man who wears cargo shorts always knows where he is and how to get to every place.

Can’t feminine property be kept in cargo shorts? When a wife asks her husband to hold on to feminine things, the man responds to her either that he does not have enough pockets or that all of the pockets are already full of other things, even if his pockets are completely empty.

Do they come in Tyrian purple? That is a violation of divine law! They can only be the color of dirt or stone.

Can’t they be made to fit properly? No! As it is said: Function over form! A comfortable body through shapeless clothes! Covering only part of the knee! Always socks with sandals!

Is that a javelin in your pocket? No! I am just happy to see you.*

Filiis natis viri num togam deponere ac novum vestimenti genus induere fas sit considerant. Hoc genus vestimenti “oniferes” appellatur quod multa onera ferre possunt. Hunc libellum scripsi ut vos omnia de oniferibus intelligeretis.

Quamquam di viris duas manus dent, viri octo manus cupiunt ut quam plurimas res secum ferant. Olim insatiabili omnium portandorum cupiditate commotus vir astutus oniferes machinatus est cum curis venustatis depositis bracis informis quam plurimos sacculos applicavit. Ad hunc modum illepidum vestimentum illepidius fecit sed propter sacculos oniferes tam utiles quam illepidi sunt. Nam manibus expeditis multa facilius ferre poterat. Nunc mihi respondendum ad omnia: 

Quales res in sacculis teneri possunt? Claves, sestertios, sudaria, tesseras salutrices, medicamenta, cultros, sacculos minores, stilos, tabulas, cenulas, ampullas cervisiae, catulos– mirum dictu!

Nonne tabulae geographicae in oniferibus teneri possunt? Minime! Nam vir oniferes gerens semper scit ubi sit atque quibus viis ad omnes locos advenire possit.

Nonne res muliebres in oniferibus tenentur? Cum uxor virum rogat ut res muliebres teneat, vir ei respondet aut satis sacculorum sibi deesse aut omnes sacculos iam crebros aliis rebus esse, etsi sacculi pleni araneorum sunt.

Murice tingi possunt? Nefas est! Oniferes colorem aut humi aut lapidis habent.

Nonne apte caedi possunt?  Minime! Ut dicitur: fungi quam ornare! Corpus commodum per vestem informam! partem genus modo tegere! Semper socci soleaeque!

Estne tibi pilum in sacculo? Minime! Ego modo te videre gaudeo.*

*This last question was written in a different style of handwriting.

** This piece is satire.

Medieval pants


The Lost De Imaginibus Verendorum

A pamphlet was recently discovered along with the fragments of Bellum Incivile, a text tentatively attributed to Caesar. De Imaginibus Verendorum was almost certainly not written by Caesar, but was very possibly distributed to his troops.* Edited by Dani Bostick

“All people arrive into the world nude on the day of their birth, but many men as adults want to show off their unclothed private parts very often. They have a frightful custom of making images of their private parts, which can also be called dick pics, penis pictures, and members at mast, and sending them to women. These men are very different with respect to dignity and virtue from men who are in the habit of keeping their private parts covered unless someone says she wants to see them.

When the eyes of women are too far away or when there is a concern about breaking the law– for it is not OK to expose bystanders to penises when you are outside– inflamed by a desire to show his private parts, a man of this kind creates an image of them, which you would believe to be real, but would not in any way want to look at. He marvels at this, but it is not enough for him to see it. Even if women have already said they do not want to see any private parts, he thinks the image must be seen by as many women as possible.

For this reason the man sends this image to one woman, then to two women, then to five; then to another ten. “Careful,” he says to himself as he sends the picture through the ether. “Don’t send it to your mom or sisters by accident.” In this way, he believes he is operating with restraint and modesty.

At last, many women see the image of the private parts and seeing it, they are horrified, but the man, proud of his private parts and the picture of them, happily awaits the replies of the women. “How lucky these women are! How beautiful are my private parts!” But the women do not respond.

Although he is happy with himself, he lacks friends and dignity, but he does not want to change because he thinks he is the best.  Catullus once said, “Each of us has a flaw, but we cannot see what is in our own backpacks.”  

I will make this very clear to you. It is the greatest flaw to send pictures of your private parts to women who absolutely do not want to see them.

Men, having read these words, may you recognize this flaw and stop it!

Homines die natali nudi nati sunt, sed multi viri adulti verenda exerta saepissime ostendere volunt. His mos terribilis est imagines verendorum, quae appellari etiam pictura passeris, simulacrum siculae, vincens verpa possunt, facere ac ad feminas mittere.  Hi sunt dignitate et virtute disimiles viris qui verenda operire solent, nisi quis ea videre velle dicat.

Vir huius generis cum aut oculi feminarum longius absit aut leges violare timeat– nam verendis foris circumstantes obiecere est nefas– inflammato verendorum ostendendorum cupidine imaginem, quam vivere credas, sed haud spectare velis, facit. miratur, sed non est satis eam videre. etiamsi feminae se verenda videre nolle iam dixerunt, imaginem quam plurimis feminis videndam existimat.

Qua de causa vir hanc imaginem ad unam feminam mittit; deinde ad duas feminas; deinde ad quinque; dein ad decem alteras. “Cave,” mittenti per caelum imaginem sibi ait. “Noli ad matrem aut ad sorores peperam mittere.” ad hunc modum se caute et pudenter agere credit.

Tandem multae feminae imaginem verendam vident et videntes horrescunt; verum vir suis verendis ac imagine eorum superbiens responsa feminarum laete expectat. “Quam beatae hae feminae! Quam pulchra mea verenda!”  sed feminae nihil respondent.

quamvis se ipso contentus sit, amicae dignitasque ei desunt, sed mutari non vult, quia se optimum esse credit.  “Suus cuique attributus est error,” scripsit Catullus. “sed non videmus manticae quod in tergo est.”

Hoc vobis manifestissimum faciam. Est maximus error imagines verendorum ad feminas, quae ea videre minime velint, mittere.  

Viri, his verbis acceptis, videatis errorem et desinatis!



[*N.B. This is satire. This Latin is not from antiquity]

Bellum Incivile: Manicula’s Associate Procures Pictures of Private Parts

Another text tentatively attributed to Caesar was discovered along with the fragments of the De Silvis and an appendix to De Bello Gallico. This is almost surely from the lost Bellum Incivile.

C. Julius Caesar (?), Bellum Incivile. Edited by Dani Bostick

6.3 Whenever Manicula found himself in the midst of scandal, money was often paid by his associate D. Pecker to buy off accusations. For even prior to his nefarious consulship, Manicula had associated with people of such a kind and conducted his business in such a way that many reports of his offences and delinquency became widespread. For this reason, D. Pecker made many payments to conceal Manicula’s misdeeds. It is said that evidence of them is kept under lock and key.

6.3 Cum contumelia in Maniculam iaceretur, pecunia ne accusaretur saepe a comite D. Vellicatore data est. Nam etiam ante nefarium consulatum cum talibus hominibus vixerat negotiaque ita transegerat Manicula ut multae famae de eius delictis ac peccatis dispergerentur. Qua de causa D. Vellicator multam pecuniam qua scelera eius celarentur pendebat. Quorum testimonia scripta ac alia indicia sub clavi servari dicitur.

6.8 After D. Pecker obtained images of the intimate regions of a wealthy man named J. Bezos, who made his fortune doing business in the cloud, he threatened to publish them in order to silence Bezos who had discovered information unfavorable to Pecker’s company.  It ended up, however, that D. Pecker’s plan seemed more shameful than the images themselves.

6.8 Imagines verendorum locupletis J. Bezi, qui negotiando in caelo maximam pecuniam lucrifecit, adeptus, D. Vellicator minabatur se imagines verandorum volgo elaturum apertissimeque ostenturum ut J. Bezum certiorem de suae societatis probris factum comprimeret. Effecit tamen ut consilium D. Vellicatoris foedius imaginibus ipsis videretur.