Monday, July 31, 2006

Excelsior!

Last night, I was watching "Who Wants to Be a Superhero?" on SciFi channel -- a show that was hysterical. In any case, at the end of the episode, Stan Lee asked the "superheroes" if they knew what "excelsior" meant. When they said they did not, he told them it was an "Old English word."

Now, he could have been saying it was an "old English word," but the captioning on my TV showed it as "Old English." Stan might know comic books, but his etymology needs work. "Excelsior" pretty obviously comes from Latin, not Old English. Could it be, though, an "old English" word? The Online Etymology Dictionary gives word as being of Latin origin, and doesn't give any earlier uses than the 1778 motto for New York state -- not very old, and not very English. I would argue, though, that we can't consider that the entry of the word into the English language, since the state motto of New York is intended to be a Latin motto, not an English motto. Instead, we have to use Longfellow's title of "Excelsior" in 1841 as the real entry of the word into the English language -- which the Oxford English Dictionary also lists as the earliest use in English (except for the state motto). Again, not very old, and not very English.

So, Stan, it is a Latin word adopted into modern English, next time someone asks. Etymology Man, away!

Many thanks to Gail from the Scribal Terror for e-mailing me the Oxford English Dictionary entry.

2 comments:

  1. I imagine, were you to ask Stan the Man, that he was probably referring to Longfellow. Given the fact that none of the current cast of "Who Wants" ranks anywhere near Braniac 5, or any other Coluans for that matter, in intelligence I don't think "the Man" wanted to make the cast feel any more foolish.

    Then again, given that Stan mistook Monkey Girl for Creature, maybe he isn't Vril Dox either. It was Creature and not Monkey Girl who looked at the helpless waif and ran on. In fact, Creature not only ran past the girl begging for help finding her mother, but after making contact she snapped her whip.

    It was quite humorous, and I can't believe Stan confused the two.

    And since when don't superheroes kill?

    Didn't Cap and Bucky take it to the Ratzis?

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  2. I'm glad I'm not the only one whose brow immediately furrowed at Stan's comment. Of course, I was still trying to figure out Lemuria couldn't fit a bra into her costume. What, are superheros too good for support?

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