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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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Wednesday, February 22, 2017

This post has been thoroughly vetted

There is much talk in the news these days of the "vetting" of refugee claimants.

Does this have anything to do with that friendly medical professional that Minkus and Papagena so love to visit?

Surprisingly, yes. The word "veterinarian" (derived from Latin veterīnus: belonging or pertaining to cattle) came into English in the 1600s, when we LOVED borrowing Latin words. Admittedly it's a mouthful, and by the mid-1800s it was shortened to "vet". 

A few decades later, the inevitable had happened: the noun became a verb, "To submit (an animal) to examination or treatment by a veterinary surgeon":
Of the 73 stallions..only 39 came back for a second inspection after they had been ‘vetted’
Almost at the same time, in slang, the verb took on an extended sense: "make a careful and critical examination of (a plan, work, candidate, etc.)." By the 1950s, this sense had moved from slang to the neutral register of the language.

The other "vet" was shortened from "veteran", also in the mid-1800s. "Veteran", which we borrowed from French in the early 1500s, ultimately comes from the Latin word vetus (old).

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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.