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Filibuster

According to the official U.S. Senate Glossary a filibuster is an
Informal term for any attempt to block or delay Senate action on a bill or other matter by debating it at length, by offering numerous procedural motions, or by any other delaying or obstructive actions. According to the AHD, a filibuster:
a. The obstructing or delaying of legislative action, especially by prolonged speechmaking. b. An instance of this, especially a prolonged speech. An adventurer who engages in a private military action in a foreign country. Etymologically the English word filibuster derives from Dutch vrijbuiter, “pirate” via Spanish filibustero, or “freebooter”; the Spanish borrowed the word from French flibustier, who in turn derived their word from Dutch vrijbuiter.

English also derives our word freebooter “A person who pillages and plunders, especially a pirate” from Dutch vrijbuiter. Dutch vrijbuiter derives from from vrijbuit, plunder, a compound of vrij, free; (see prī- in the Appendix of In…
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Sheepish Idioms

As we move along the paths of technology and human invention, our skill sets and our language change along with our manner of life. But because so much of language, especially idiom, is built upon metaphor, as we lose understanding of past ways of living, those metaphors die, and become complicated literary allusions.

Take, for instance “dyed-on-the-wool,” which Ngaio Marsh used in a punning title of her mystery novel, Died in the Wool. The idiom really is “dyed,” and dyed-in-the-wool means, according to the AHD, “Thoroughgoing; out-and-out: a dyed-in-the-wool populist.” You usually see the idiom used in a political context, as in “Kennedy was a dyed in the wool Democrat.” SyedDin-the-wool can be used for other fields as well; I’m a dyed-in-the-wool Macintosh fan. The idiom derives from the practice of dying wool that has been washed, combed or “carded” to remove tangles and bits of trash, but which has not ye been spun into yarn. Wool dyed in after being washed and carded but before …

Easter

Easter n.
1. A Christian feast commemorating the Resurrection of Jesus. 2. The day on which this feast is observed, the first Sunday following the full moon that occurs on or next after March 21. 3. Eastertide.
That seems straightforward enough. It gets a little less straightforward when we start looking at the etymology behind the word Easter.

This much we are reasonably sure of; Easter is derived from Middle English ester, itself derived from Old English ēastre. There's a very clear Proto Indo-European root there; *aus-, "to shine." Derivatives of *-aus included east, Easter, and Aurora, as well as the name of the Greek dawn goddess, Eos.

You will see a fair number of people stating that Easter is derived from teh name of a pagan goddess named Eostre, or Ostara. Despite urgent and repeated assertions from Neo Pagans, Easter is not Celtic, nor is there a fertility goddess represented by the rabbit named Eostre, nor is she a moon goddess; the fact that the word Easter begins…

The Language of Basball

Foolish me; I had been planning for some time to welcome the Springtime return of major league baseball with a bit about the way baseball idioms have crept into ordinary American English.
I’m far too late to the pitch. There’s a wikipedia article already. Even the OED got to first base before me.

There are books about the language of baseball; Ryan Gray’s The Language of Baseball: A Complete Dictionary of Slang Terms, Cliches, and Expressions From The Grand Ole Game. And there's a book (and a website) by Paul Dickson about the signs used to signal plays used by catchers, pitchers, coaches and even players (at bat or in the field); The Hidden Language of Baseball: How Signs and Sign-Stealing Have Influenced the Course of Our National Pastime.

Nonetheless, because I love the way baseball has embedded itself so very thoroughly into American English, I’m going to talk about a handful of words and phrases. Bear in mind that while I love baseball, I’m not a player or even an expert fan…

Penguin

There’s universal agreement today that a penguin is:

Any of various stout, flightless aquatic birds of the family Spheniscidae, of the Southern Hemisphere, having flipperlike wings and webbed feet adapted for swimming and diving, short scalelike feathers, and white underparts with a dark back (AHD). It’s possible that penguin is of Welsh origin; it breaks down very neatly into pen + gwen/gwyn, with pen meaning “head,” and gwen meaning “white,” (and there are species of penguin with white heads).

However, the etymology isn’t at all certain. The OED offers two early quotations in context:
1577 F. FLETCHER Log of ‘Golden Hind’ 24 Aug. in N. M. Penzer World Encompassed (1971) 128 Infinite were the Numbers of the foule, wch the Welsh men name Pengwin & Maglanus tearmed them Geese. 1589 N. H. in R. Hakluyt Princ. Navigations (1589) III. 809 The Port of Desire… In this place we had gulles, puets, penguyns, and seales in aboundance. The OED also expounds in a lengthy etymology note after…

Dray

A dray or drey is a squirrel’s nest. Dray is also sometimes applied to a nest of squirrels, or a litter of squirrels.

The OEDs.v. dray offers “A squirrel’s nest” with the following in context citations:

1607   E. Topsell Hist. Fovre-footed Beastes 497   They..make their nestes, like the draies of squirrels.
1627   M. Drayton Quest of Cynthia in Battaile Agincourt 141   The nimble Squirrell..Her mossy Dray that makes.
The etymology of dray isn’t clear; it’s generally associated with the dray that means a sled or cart that lacks wheels, and is thus dragged. That dray derives from Old English dragan to draw; the OED suggests “compare Old English dræge drag-net, also Swedish drög sledge, dray, (Old Norse draga, plural drögur timber trailed along the ground)” (s.v.dray).

I suspect, though I can’t prove it, that dray for a squirrel’s nest also derives from OE dragan meaning to draw or drag, and refers to the way squirrels create the dray, by dragging leaves and brush into a nest in the for…

Flotsam and Jetsam

flotsam n.

Goods floating on the surface of a body of water after a shipwreck or after being cast overboard to lighten the ship.Discarded or unimportant things: "Keyrings, bookmarks ... gum, scissors, paper clips ... pencils and pads stolen from various hotels: all this detritus, this flotsam of a life being lived at full throttle" (David Leavitt).People who are considered to be worthless or to have been rejected by society. flotsam AHD jetsam n.
Goods that are cast overboard from a ship, especially in an attempt to lighten the ship, and that sink to the bottom of a body of water.Discarded odds and ends. AHD jetsam
We almost always hear flotsam and jetsam as a phrase, typically in the context of the beach and the sea: "The flotsam and jetsam of the sea dotted the tide line."

As the AHD points out, in maritime law, flotsam refers to "Goods floating on the surface of a body of water after a shipwreck or after being cast overboard to lighten the ship." Jetsam…