or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Monday, January 17, 2011

Question Time

Q: How do you get down off an elephant's back?

A: You don't. You get down off a duck's back.


Q: The "down" in the first part of that joke isn't in any way related to the "down" in the second part, is it?

A: No, it isn't. The preposition "down" is, most unexpectedly, related to "dune", which is to say "hill", and is an abbreviated form of "ofdune", "[down] from the hill". (Just as unexpectedly, the adjective "down" meaning "depressed", though it sounds rather slangy and probably sixties-ish, is over four hundred years old.) The noun "down" is probably from Indo-European "dheu-", "to fly about like dust", which, as you know if you've ever tried to transfer eiderdown from one sleeping bag shell to another, is a pretty good description of just what happens.


Q: All right, then, what about "eiderdown".

A: It's from the eider duck, and its name is a pretty good indication that the word "eider" must be Germanic or Norse or something, which it is: from Old Norse "aethr".


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