or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Monday, January 11, 2010


Oh, Slate, Slate, Slate. You're so hopeless.

Here is a sentence from a review of a book called "The Unnamed":

Then he gets back to wondering why Old Brizz bequeathed Benny Shassburger a totem poll.

And because I can't believe they did it, and I also can't believe that it won't be corrected in the next few minutes, here's proof:

Honestly, I'm speechless.

"Poll" is from an old German or Dutch word meaning "head", so a poll, logically, is a head count. "Pole", the intended word, is a long stick of some sort: it is related to "pale", which is also a stick, or a stake.

The North Pole, polarity, Polaris, the poles of a magnet, and other geographically and astronomically pole-y things are, and this may surprise you, not related to the pole which is a stick, even though it is easy to envision a long (invisible, metaphorical) stick running through a planet around which it may revolve. That word instead comes from Greek "polos", "a pivot or axis", which in turn is from an Indo-European root meaning "to turn".

The Pole which is a person, I do not think I even need to tell you, is unrelated to both of these things, and comes from the Polish word "Poljane", "field-dwellers".

"Poll parrot", which has a pleasantly old-fashioned, rather Edward Lear sound, has nothing to do with heads (and isn't even pronounced the same--it's got a short vowel sound): it's just a shortened form of Polly, which became a popular name for parrots for god only knows what reason other than alliteration.

Bafflingly, "Polly" is itself a variant of Molly, which is a pet name for Mary, in much the same way that Margaret gave rise to the pet names Meg and then in turn Peg. How lucky that the nickname Millie (a short form of Millicent, a lovely name well overdue for a comeback) did not turn into Pillie.


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