Word origin quiz by: David P. Cantrell
Battle tanks, such as America’s M-1 Abrams, are frightening weapons of war. They first appeared in World War I and became famous in World War II. The Iraq war brought them into our living rooms. Why do we call them “tanks?”
- Tank, as in “Get out of my way, brave Chinese person”, owes its name to:
- A German word, “Tankinbuker” meaning a fortified position.
- An acronym for “Taylor and Norcross Company” a maker of fire-fighting vehicles adapted to military use.
- A code phrase, “Tank Supply Committee,” adopted by the British in WWI to keep the weapon’s development secret from German spies.
- Tankards, a nickname for the crewmen because of their drunken behavior after exiting the vehicles caused by engine fumes.
- Pandemonium, as in “Tween girls at a Shawn Mendes concert” was coined because of:
- Homer’s use of it in the Iliad to describe the battles at the gates of Troy,
- John Milton’s use of it in Paradise Lost as the name of Satin’s palace in Hell,
- Mark Twain’s use of it in Huckleberry Finn as a made-up name for a squirming nest of rats.
- Shakespeare’s use of it in A Midsummer’s Night Dream to describe a chaotic forest scene.
- Blowhard, as in Donald Trump, came into use because of:
- A terrible wind in the 1880’s that a New York Times’ reporter exaggerated into a big deal and claimed that the world was ending.
- Jazz players in the 1920’s that used the phrase to describe great sax and trumpet players.
- A nickname for sailors in the late 1700’s,
- A line in Linda Lovelace’s porno movie Deep Throat.
- Balderdash, as in, senseless, stupid, exaggerated talk—see Blowhard above, is in use because of:
- A term used in the 1500’s to describe oddly mixed beverages, such as milk and beer,
- Haberdashers that sold wigs sewn into hats to hide baldness,
- An old Saxon word bald meaning unclear and a Saxon word dashut meaning escape or run away,
- A phrase coined by Shakespeare to describe Shylock.
- (c) In 1915, the British decided to build an “armored, gun-mounted vehicle moving on continuous articulated tracks,” and for secrecy purposes assigned the task to a newly formed “Tank Supply Committee.” According to Brevet Col. J.F.C. Fuller in his book Tanks in the Great War the words “cistern” and “reservoir” were also considered but discarded because they were clumsy and polysyllabic. Can you imagine Gen. Patton yelling, “Get that cistern moving!”
- (b) Milton’s 1674 version of Paradise Lost tells the story of creation and man’s fall from grace in 10,555 lines of poetry. He cobbled pandemonium from Greek “pan” (all) + Latin “daemonium” (evil spirit) so it literally means “all evil spirit.” If Milton had written his epic in the 1930’s he might have used Hellzapoppin’ for the palace name, but it would have been a copyright infringement because it was a Broadway hit.
- (c) In the 1790’s “blowhard” was a nickname for everyday sailors. It didn’t carry the sense of braggart until the 1840’s.
- (a) Balderdash has been attributed to alcoholic beverages mixed with less expensive liquids, but its full origin is unclear, some say unknown. One thing is definitely true; the other answers are balderdash.
Thanks to: Online Etymology Dictionary
David P. Cantrell contributor and member of the Edgewise Words Inn staff