I often wonder how words end up becoming words. Also how they go out of use as well as how they came into use. Some are pretty obvious such as SCUBA and other acronyms that then take on a meaning. Not the history of every single word is interesting, and many that are are of no interest to me. However I came upon one that combined this interest with my love in history. The latest is maffick. I have never encountered it before and doubt I will again, but it has an interesting history, according to A.Word.A.Day.
First what does it mean? I would be shocked if anyone knew and I asked a couple of friends from England and they had no clue. It is defined as to celebrate boisterously. It comes from the breaking of the 217 day siege of the South African town of Mafeking on May 17, 1900 during the Boer War, (technically the Second Boer War.)
I was aware of the war after finding a copy of Thomas Pakenham’s The Boer War at the old Recycle Bookstore in downtown San Jose. It was the first time I had read anything about Africa aside from Tarzan novels and generic histories of Egypt. There was a whole world of colonization, Imperial policy, war and the use of concentration camps on civilians that I was completely unaware. I still have the book somewhere in the house under stacks of other books that I will probably never read again and yet do not wish to give up.
One of my favorite words in this category is gerrymander. I think that most people know that it means to manipulate the boundaries of a electoral district so that it favors a specific party or group. However I learned years ago that it was a portmanteau consisting of the words salamander and the last name of then Massachusetts governor Elbridge Gerry. He redistricted the state to benefit his party in 1812 and someone noted that a few districts looked like salamanders. As a footnote it worked quite well for Gerry’s party.