20 April 2021

Flea Markets

Puces de Montsoreau.jpg
Montsoreau Flea Market, Loire Valley, France CC BY-SA 4.0, Link

My wife mentioned that with the weather warming up our local flea market would be reopening soon. This got my word-mind working on why you would want to name a shopping place after those pesky little parasites of the order Siphonaptera ("wingless bloodsucker") that infest dogs, clothing, and especially upholstery on old furniture that might be for sale. It seems like very poor marketing. My wife said she doubted that the etymology was that literal. 

A flea market is usually a street market that provides space for vendors to sell previously-owned (second-hand) merchandise. Being outdoors, they are often seasonal. The line sometimes blurs as these places move indoors or become year-round places. Sometimes "swap meet" or "casual market" is the label. I've seen flea markets mixed with farmer's markets where (hopefully) at least the produce is not second-hand! 

And what happens when a group of street vendors begins to gather in one place? Is that a flea market? Probably not, and especially not if they are selling new items as many street vendor do with t-shirts, art etc.

I still view a flea market as a place selling used goods, from collectibles (books, records, toys etc.), to antiques (from jewelry to furniture) and vintage clothing.

There is now a National Flea Market Association which almost seems antithetical to the whole casual concept.

Where did the "flea" part of the term come from? Certainly markets of a similar nature existed in the Middle East and Asia a very long time ago. But the fleas appellation? 

One American theory is that there was a "Fly Market" in the late 1700s in New York City, located at Maiden Lane near the East River in Manhattan. The location was originally a salt marsh and so flies, fleas and other annoying critters were part of it. That Fly Market was the city's principal market by the early 1800s. But no mention of fleas in the name.

Perhaps, the American term made its way over to Europe, but more likely is that the "flea" term came from France to America. This loan translation is known as a calque. For example, the French “cela va sans dire” is loaned to English as “it goes without saying.” [Sidebar: "It goes without saying" is an odd phrase since we almost always follow it by saying what doesn't need to be said: "It goes without saying that she has plenty of money."]

The accepted etymology for "flea market" is an English calque from the French "marché aux puces" ("market of the fleas"). The first reference to this term appeared in stories about a location in Paris in the 1860s which was actually called the "marché aux puces" because items sold there were previously used and worn and so could very easily have contained fleas.

Paris - Vintage travel gear seller at the marche Dauphine - 5212.jpg
A vintage travel gear seller at Marché Dauphine, Saint-Ouen, the home of Paris' flea market
by Jorge Royan,  CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

15 April 2021

Words That Are Their Own Opposites

In Roman mythology, Janus presided over the beginning and
 ending of conflict, including war and peace.

Most people learned in school that an antonym is a word that means the opposite of another word. Children learn about opposites at a young age: up/down, in/out, hot cold. Contronyms are somewhat related but quite different.

An example of these words that are their own antonyms is "oversight."  What does this sentence mean?  "The supervisor's oversight led to the procedure's approval." Does it mean that the supervisor was inattentive and so allowed something to be approved that shouldn't have been approved? Or, does it mean that because he was overseeing a procedure properly it was approved?

That's a contronym. You may also see them referred to as an auto-antonym or autantonym, or Janus word - a word with multiple meanings of which one is the reverse of another.

I heard on the news recently that some members of Congress might be sanctioned, meaning a penalty will be imposed upon them. But a sanction can also mean "to give official permission or approval" which is quite different in meaning.

A few others:

Cleave can mean "to cling to or adhere," and also "to split or sever."

Fast can mean "moving rapidly," as in running fast, or "fixed, unmoving," as in holding fast. 

You can weather a hurricane (to withstand or come safely through) but a seaside home can look weathered because it has been worn away by the elements, because weather is a contronym.


12 April 2021

Major League Baseball

One of the many signs of spring is baseball's spring training, even though it wintry in much of the U.S. then. Even opening day games in April are often cold and even snowy. The "Boys of Summer" probably prefer days that are in that just-right Goldilocks zone that is late spring and early autumn.

The pandemic really hurt baseball as well as other sports in 2020 and although the games are on this year, the number of fans is still limited and teams still are still dealing with cases.

Major League Baseball (MLB) is a professional baseball organization and the oldest of the major professional sports leagues in the United States and Canada.

There are 30 teams in American Major League Baseball (MLB). They are divided up evenly between the American League (AL) and National League (NL) with 15 teams in each. Each of the leagues is divided into three divisions called the East, the Central, and the West.

The NL and AL were formed as separate legal entities in 1876 and 1901, respectively. Beginning in 1903, the two leagues cooperated but remained legally separate entities. In 2000 the leagues merged into a single organization led by the Commissioner of Baseball.

We are working our ways through all the teams' name origin stories. 

MLB also oversees Minor League Baseball, which comprises 256 teams affiliated with the major league clubs. I don't know if we'll get around to all those minor league teams - but some have very interesting name-origin stories.

See all our baseball team name origins 
and all our other sports name origins posts.

National League
Atlanta Braves
Miami Marlins
New York Mets
Philadelphia Phillies
Washington Nationals
Chicago Cubs
Cincinnati Reds
Milwaukee Brewers
Pittsburgh Pirates
St. Louis Cardinals
Arizona Diamondbacks
Colorado Rockies
Los Angeles Dodgers
San Diego Padres
San Francisco Giants

American League
Baltimore Orioles
Boston Red Sox
New York Yankees
Tampa Bay Rays
Toronto Blue Jays
Chicago White Sox
Cleveland Indians
Detroit Tigers
Kansas City Royals
Minnesota Twins
Houston Astros
Los Angeles Angels
Oakland Athletics
Seattle Mariners
Texas Rangers

07 April 2021


When we "reminisce," we think or tell about past experiences, and the word's origin comes from our minds.

Reminisce (and its noun relative reminiscence) comes from the Latin word mens meaning "mind." When attached to the prefix re- it became the Latin verb reminisci ("to remember").

In English, we have other re- verbs that suggest bringing an image or memory into our mind: remember, recall, remind, and recollect. 

Reminisce differs from these others because it suggests not only a casual recalling of experiences past but also a sense of nostalgia about those memories. 

Image by Michal Jarmoluk from Pixabay

30 March 2021

The Black Crowes

The Black Crowes--Luther Dickinson, Sven Pipien, Steve Gorman, Chris Robinson, and Rich Robinson performing at the 2008 Newport Folk Festival. (Adam MacDougall was playing keyboard out-of-frame to the right.)

THE BLACK CROWES is an American rock band formed in Marietta, Georgia, in 1984. The first incarnation of the band was called Mr. Crowe's Garden which was used until 1989. It was a name taken from L. Leslie Brooke's children's book Johnny Crow's Garden. which had been a favorite of original members Chris and Rich Robinson. Brooke was best known as a book illustrator and the 1903 book is known more for its illustrations than for its minimal text.

The band was influenced by contemporary local acts like R.E.M. along with 60s psychedelic pop and classic southern rock. Gradually, the band's sound moved more toward 70s-era blues rock.

The band had many personnel changes, breakups and reunions over the years but brothers Chris and Rich Robinson, who were the founding members while they were still attending Walton High School, have remained the band's core. 

They changed the band's name in 1989 when they signed with Def American Records at the suggestion of producer George Drakoulias. They released their debut album, Shake Your Money Maker, the following year and their follow-up, The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion, reached the top of the Billboard 200 in 1992. 

The band went through a hiatus from 2002 to 2005, then regrouped and toured for several years and released Warpaint in 2008. They released a greatest hits/acoustic double album Croweology and did a 20th-anniversary tour, then followed that with a second hiatus. 

Continuing their dizzying history, after a 2013 tour, the band announced another breakup in 2015. As you might guess, by now none of its original line-up was left except for Chris and Rich remained.

The Black Crowes have sold more than 30 million albums, and are listed at number 92 on VH1's 100 Greatest Artists of Hard Rock and the UK Melody Maker named them as "The Most Rock 'n' Roll Rock 'n' Roll Band in the World."

Shake Your Money Maker (2020 Remaster, 3 CD Super Deluxe Edition)

In late 2019, during an interview on The Howard Stern Show, Chris and Rich Robinson announced that they had resolved their differences after not speaking since the band's 2015 split. They announced a 2020 tour in support of the 30th anniversary of Shake Your Money Maker. but it was canceled due to the COVID pandemic.

Hard to Handle: The Life and Death of the Black Crowes--A Memoir

22 March 2021


Eurythmics 2018

Eurythmics were a British pop duo consisting of members Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart. The duo formed in Wagga Wagga, Australia, and released their first studio album, In the Garden, in 1981. It didn't catch much airplay, but their their second album Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This) in 1983 had a worldwide hit with the title track.

They picked Eurythmics as their name because that was a method of teaching music going back to the 1890s that Lennox had encountered as a child.

The duo was never really a "band" unless they were on tour and the two were the only permanent members and songwriters. 

Lennox and Stewart had been a couple but split as a couple around the time that they signed their RCA record deal. The duo went on to release a string of hit singles and albums before they split up in 1990. 

Stewart went on as a record producer. Annie Lennox began a solo recording career in 1992 with her debut album Diva.  

After almost a decade apart, Eurythmics reunited to record their ninth album, Peace, released in late 1999 and reunited again in 2005 to release the single "I've Got a Life", as part of a new Eurythmics compilation album, Ultimate Collection


17 March 2021

Groundlings and Underlings

Shakespeare's Globe Theatre, Southbank, London

We read Julius Caesar in my high school sophomore English class. It didn't make much of an impression on me because we just read it - much of it alone as homework - and Shakespeare needs to be seen and heard as a performance. 

When Cassius says "The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, But in ourselves, that we are underlings." (Julius Caesar I, ii, 140-141) I don't think it made an impression on me. The famous quotation usually does not include those four final words. 

I went on to be an English major and read a lot of Shakespeare and learned a lot about Will and his theater. It was then that I learned that Cassius was saying something that was an anachronism thrown in for the underlings watching the performance. 

Shakepeare's underlings were called groundlings. They were patrons at the Red Lion, The Rose, or the Globe theater in the early 17th century. They were too poor to pay to be able to sit on one of the three levels of the theatre. For a penny, they could stand in "the pit", also called "the yard", just below the stage, to watch the play. 

They were up close to the action but they had to stand for a few hours and were usually packed in tightly with sometimes 500 of them there. The groundlings were commoners. They were also referred to as "stinkards" (hygiene not a priority) or penny-stinkers. The name "groundlings" came into usage after Hamlet used the term around 1600 in a not very complimentary way.

Speak the speech, I pray you, as I pronounced it to 
you, trippingly on the tongue. But if you mouth it, as
many of your players do, I had as lief the town crier had
spoke my lines. Nor do not saw the air too much with
your hand, thus, but use all gently. For in the very torrent,
tempest, and, as I may say, whirlwind of your passion,
you acquire and beget a temperance that may give
it smoothness. Oh, it offends me to the soul to hear a 
robustious periwig-pated fellow tear a passion to 
tatters, to very rags, to split the ears of the groundlings,
who for the most part are capable of nothing but
inexplicable dumb shows and noise.

I only recently discovered that it is not a Shakespearean invention. The word had entered the English language to mean a small type of fish with a gaping mouth. Maybe from an actor's point of view on the raised stage, the faces of these patrons might have looked like open-mouthed fish. 

I had learned in college that the groundlings were not well-behaved and the upper-class folks that were high above them were happy to be there.


Groundlings supposedly threw fruit and nuts they were eating at characters/actors they did not like. My professors also told us that Shakespeare would include characters (Falstaff et al), ghosts and jokes to keep the groundlings interested.

I guess if "all the world's a stage," then maybe we are all underlings when it comes to why we might not succeed. Don't blame Fate. Blame yourself. Take responsibility for your place in the Globe.