With the 23rd of March marking the anniversary of the first UK lockdown, we look at words around hobbies and pastimes used to fill our…
It’s a dog-eat-dog world
…is a bit of a cliché. Where does it come from? The first relevant quotation in the OED is from a 5 August 1794 headline in the Gazette of the United States: ‘Dog eat dog’. The next quotation (1822) is from a British source, and then The Times of 30 December 1854 has an example which explains the meaning very well:
‘It was dog eat dog—tit for tat… the customers cheated us in their fabrics; we cheated the customers with our goods.’
Modern usage follows Shakespeare. In the GloWbE corpus (Global Web-based English), in the meantime is 20 times more frequent than in the meanwhile.
Two poetic “meanwhiles”
And, as I was writing this, the last words of Auden’s Friday’s Child, in memory of the German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, floated into my head:
champ is older as a verb in its own right, by anything between 51 and 183 years (depending on which source you go by);
‘the dictionaries’ agree that chomp is a by-form of champ;
three major English dictionaries define chomp by reference back to champ;
chomp in conjunction with bit is actually recorded earlier (1645) than champ at the bit, and the subsequent OED citation for chomp also includes the word bit; and
Merriam-Webster shows an intransitive chomp meaning – ‘to be eager (to do)’ – that neither Collins nor the OED does.
Chomp at the bit appears more often in most modern written sources than champ…;
Dictionaries make no comment about chomp’s correctness;
A small survey suggests that most people would edit chomp to champ;
I comment on it in my Fowler, but only one other usage guide does;
Insisting that champ is the only correct form seems to be a ‘thing’.
I bet you’ll never guess from which language English borrowed penguin. Could it be from those adventurous mariners the Dutch, as their word is pinguïn? Or perhaps from a Polynesian language? Nope, neither of those. It’s most probably from…
Meanwhile, English being so footloose – nay, cavalier – with parts of speech, it was inevitable that Penguin books should hatch a verb.