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This blog is about the fascinating, fun, and challenging things about the English language. I hope to entertain you and to help you with problems or just questions you might have with spelling and usage. I go beyond just stating what is right and what is wrong, and provide some history or some tips to help you remember. Is something puzzling you? Feel free to email me at wordlady.barber@gmail.com.
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Friday, March 2, 2012


If you're Canadian, you may have been rushing madly to the bank yesterday to beat the Registered Retirement Savings Plan contribution deadline, and now you're just on tenterhooks thinking about your investments. And your most burning question is no doubt: "Just where does the word "invest" come from anyway?" Surprisingly, from the same source as “vestment”: the Latin word for clothing, vestis. How did clothing come to be connected with mutual funds? Blame the Italians, and not necessarily because of their reputation for being snappy dressers. In about the 1300s Italy started to be very wealthy. A lot of economic activity was going on that people could provide money for. If you took your money and used it, say, to buy a textile mill, it was as if you were giving it a new suit of clothes, dressing it up (investire in Italian). You were transforming it into something else, hopefully more money in the long run. In the last few years, unfortunately, far from being like dressing up, investing has been more like losing one's shirt! I sincerely hope your RRSP does better.


  1. Is it our imagination or has useage of the word "iconic" increased exponentially over the past year or so?
    In the media, particularly on TV, this previously seldom used (by us)word seems to be constantly related to every facet of life. We were wonering as to its sudden popularity/
    Sam & Sharon Grossman

  2. "iconic" is definitely very popular at the moment, but as you can see by clicking on this link: http://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?content=iconic&year_start=1800&year_end=2012&corpus=0&smoothing=3
    it's been experiencing a pretty steady rate of upsurge since about 1960. Doubtless it's just recently hit the critical mass of frequency that makes us aware of it everywhere. The OED dates its first use in the "Designating a person or thing regarded as representative of a culture or movement; important or influential in a particular (cultural) context" sense to 1976. People tend to overuse it now, as there is always a tendency to hyperbole (as in the overuse of the word "heroic" too).

  3. Have you any idea of the origin of the expression to "let (something) go galliger"? My mother used it, usually to express a carefree mood. "We'll let the dishes go galliger." I don't recall hearing anyone else use the expression. It echoes an Irish (I think) name, "Gallagher".

    1. I have never heard this, nor can I find it in dictionaries. Wordlady readers, anyone familiar with it?


About Me

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Canada's Word Lady, Katherine Barber is an expert on the English language and a frequent guest on radio and television. She was Editor-in-Chief of the Canadian Oxford Dictionary. Her witty and informative talks on the stories behind our words are very popular. Contact her at wordlady.barber@gmail.com to book her for speaking engagements; she can tailor her talks to almost any subject. She is also available as an expert witness for lawsuits.