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Words and Phrases Part Six

Ready for words on words from The Facts on File Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins, 4th Edition (Facts on File Writer's Library) by Robert Hendrickson (published in 2008)? This week it’s P, Q, and R.

Paper In ancient times paper was made from the pith and stem of the Egyptian papyrus plant soaked in water and pressed into sheets. The Latin papyrus, for the plant, came to mean paper and passed into French as papier, which gave us the English word paper.

Penknife A penknife is a small pocket knife invented as far back as the 15th century. It was originally used for making and sharpening quill pens, hence its name.

Quagmired Hopelessly entangled in a terrible mess, bogged down. A quagmire, the word first recorded in 1579, is ground that appears firm but is really jellylike and swallows anyone who steps upon it. The quag in the word is a variant of quake, “to shake,” while mire means “muddy land.”

Quicksilver The Romans called this metallic element, mercury, by the name argentum vivum, “living silver,” because of its liquid mobile form at ordinary temperatures. “Living silver” was translated as quick silver (quick meaning “living”) into a number of languages, coming into English as cuiceolfor by about the year 1000.

Refrigerator The first refrigerator was named by its inventor, Maryland farmer Thomas Moore, in 1803. Moore coined the word from the Latin re-, “thoroughly,” plus frigerare, “to cool.” His invention was actually an icebox and such devices were usually called that until the first electric refrigerator was invented in 1916. It wasn’t until the 1930s that refrigerators became inexpensive enough to begin replacing iceboxes in American homes.

Right as a trivet Excellent, perfect. An old tale says trivet is a pronunciation of Truefit, the name of a London wigmaker whose wigs were perfect. But the facts do not bear this out. Originally the phrase was steady as a trivet and referred to the fact that three-legged trivets or tripods stand firm on almost any surface. Today a trivet is a small metal plate with short legs often put under a hot dish to protect a table.

Here’s to your manuscript not getting quagmired by plot holes and being right as a trivet!

Happy Writing :->

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