Wednesday, August 29, 2012


I can't let the entire month of August go by without one post so here it is:

I was watching old Seinfeld episodes and, in one of these, the question was asked 'Where does the word 'puke' come from?' Clearly I am not the only one who has idle wonderings about such things. The word appears in print as a verb at the earliest in 1601 in P. Holland's translation of Pliny's World History but the noun appears in print in 1612. Judging by the numerous 17th century citations, it was in common use. So the question is - What is the Middle English or Old English, Norman French or even Old Norse word that preceded it? Or is it a loanword from some other language? The OED conjectures that it may be related to the Dutch verb spugen or to spit or vomit or possibly German spucken to spew.
Other etymologies list Shakespeare as the inventor of the word since it appears in As You Like It and I like the idea since he did invent many words. (Rather like Dr. Seuss) However, it is uncertain when he wrote the play (estimated circa 1600) and it made its way into too many diverse publications around that for it to have been his recent coinage.
There is a supposedly unrelated other noun 'puke' (now obsolete) for a type of cloth and is related to a Middle Dutch word puuc, puyc, puc. It is also a color used on woollen goods- a very deep bluish black or dark brown color. It is not related to puce. I am not a PhD so my opinion probably means nothing to the sort of people who have one but I am thinking the color may be where the name for vomit came from. I have seen some dark brown stuff and bluish black. Puke comes in many colors and textures but I think the bumpiness of woolens rather suits it for texture. Just a thought.