What are you really saying?

A gag is no joke

This word, meaning a joke, comes from the theater, says Robert Claiborne. The term was used by actors to mean an unexpected ad lib that was intended to throw a colleague off his lines, or "gag" him.

Something to quibble about

The word for "attention to petty details and subtle distinctions" comes from a long tradition of legal documents written in Latin where just a single word, "quibus," meaning "who" or "which," created general carping among lawyers. "Quib" came to mean a petty argument and is likely the source of the verb "to quibble."

Dicker: cheaper by the 10?

This word for "haggle" or "barter" dates back to the Latin word for 10, "decem." Ancient Romans used 10 animal hides as their basic trading unit with their barbarian neighbors. When Caesar conquered Britain, the natives paid tribute with skins tied in bundles of 10. Makers of shoes, harnesses, and other leather goods bought skins "by the dicker." Colonists in the New World transported the term, according to word authority Webb Garrison, and used it in trading with the Indians and trappers. Haggling over the value of a dicker led to a "modern sales term - to dicker," Mr. Garrison claims.

SOURCES: The Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins, by Robert Hendrickson; 'Why You Say It,' by Webb Garrison; 'Word Mysteries and Histories,' by Robert Claiborne.

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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