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Origin of "workaday" and other odd words

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Laurel and Hardy pondering life in the hoosegow
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There are some odd words - like "work a day" - out there. Using them is fun!

Occasionally, you hear an odd word or read a peculiar and unfamiliar word and think, what does that mean? "Work a day," or "workaday" is one of these. It is amazing how you can live many, many years and never hear a certain word, which means you have not incorporated it into your vocabulary because you are not aware of it.

It is fun to learn the etymology of words. Etymology is not the definition of the word but an explanation of its origins, what the word initially meant and how the word sounded when it was spoken hundreds of years ago. Sometimes the original meaning is far from how the word is currently used.  


For example, the origin of the word workaday (pronounced wor-kuy-dey) is an alteration of the word "workyday." It is also sometimes written "work a day." Workaday means that something is suited for, or related to, a work day such as workaday clothing. The word is an adjective.  Wordaday struggles means the ordinary problems and concerns that the average person faces.


This word seems to have popped up around 1554. Synonyms for this odd word include run-of-the-mill, cut-and-dried, commonplace, average, common, garden-variety, everyday, ordinary, usual, standard-issue, unremarkable and unexceptional.  


The opposite, or antonym, of workaday includes the terms strange, out-of-the-way, extraordinary, unusual, exceptional, abnormal and odd.


Workaday means something that is part of the ordinary human experience. The word stems from virkr dagr or werkedej and the Middle English term werkeday, meaning working day.


An example of another odd word that most of us could use in our conversation if we knew it is farrago, pronounced fe-ra-go. It means a conglomeration or mixed up stuff, a hodgepodge or a confused mixture. My life is a farrago. The word is derived from the Latin term farragin, which means mixed fodder. It was first known to be used in 1632.


Synonyms for farrago include gumbo, assortment, alphabet soup, agglomeration, clutter, crazy guilt, motley, montage, mixed bag, menagerie and medley.


Try out this word: Schadenfreude, pronounced cha-den-freu-de (four syllables.) This word means taking malicious pleasure and joy in the misfortune of another. The word is German. Schaden means damage, injury, harm, and freude means joy or hopping for joy. When we read gossipy tabloids, we are experiencing schadenfreude. 

Here is an interesting and odd word that you occasionally hear: Zeitgeist, which is pronounced zite-guyst.  The word is a noun and refers to  the moral state or temperament that is characteristic of a period of time.  Zeitgeist comes from the German words zeit, which means time, and geist, which means spirit. A Presidential candidate would be well served if he understands the zeitgeist of the nation, so he can accommodate it.


Another odd but wonderful word is tchotchke, pronounced chach-ka. It means a trinket or a knickknack. Is the home of your grandmother filled to the brim with tchotchkes? The word is a noun and came on the scene in 1971. It is derived from the Yiddish word tshatshke, which comes from the Polish word czaczko. Words that mean the same thing as tchotchke include doodad, gewgaw, bauble, gimcrack, and kickshaw, which are rather odd words themselves.  


Here is a great word: Hoosegow, pronounced just like it looks. It means jail and is old American slang.  The word is derived from juzgao, which is a Mexican-Spanish jail. Juzgao is derived from jazgado which means courtroom or tribunal. The word hoosegow is related to the word calaboose, which is a word for a dungeon or calabozo, a term that originated in Louisiana from the French.

The old Wild West cowboys in the United States tended to mingle English words with Spanish words, and that is how words came into being. For example, buckaroo is a variation of the Spanish word vaquero. Bronco comes from a word that meant rude or rough. Lasso comes from lazo; chaps comes from chaparreras and mustang is derived from mestena.

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