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Friday, January 17, 2014

Canadian Hustle

The Academy Award nominations are in, and American Hustle is a frontrunner. (Somehow, I just can't imagine a film called Canadian Hustle. It seems so, well, un-Canadian.) The word "hustle" is older than you probably think.

From its first appearance in English in the 1600s, "hustle" has been associated with money and somewhat disreputable activities. It comes from the Dutch husseln or hutselen (to shake). This was particularly used in reference to a gambling game called hustle-cap or pitch-and-hustle. In the first round of this, coins were shaken in a hat, then each player tossed one onto the ground, aiming at a mark. The coins were then shaken again and all tossed onto the ground, with the player whose coin had landed closest to the mark winning all the coins that landed heads up.

By the 1700s, "hustle" was being used to mean "shake or jostle a person violently" (especially with the intent of robbing them). From there, it acquired its many other senses:

move roughly, quickly, or forcibly.
sell aggressively
swindle out of money
work as a prostitute.

As you can see, we kept the basic Dutch "HUSSLE" pronunciation, but as usual, though for a while we were quite happy to spell it "hussle" as well, we chose to make our lives difficult by settling for a spelling that included a silent t, by analogy with words like "castle", "bustle", "bristle" and so on, where at least the t was originally pronounced.

If you want to experience a good kind of "American Hustle", the hustle and bustle of New York and the energetic dancing of New York City Ballet and American Ballet Theatre, please check out my upcoming ballet trip to the Big Apple at the end of May. Click here for details: http://toursenlair.blogspot.ca/2014/01/ballet-weekend-in-new-york-may-2014-now.html 

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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.