Sunday, June 24, 2007

To Boot

From the Word Dectective:

“To boot, perchance to glean.

Dear Word Detective: For as long as I can remember, using the two word phrase "to boot" has meant "something additional," e.g., "He'll not only laugh at you, he'll throw you out to boot!" Where does "to boot" come from? -- Stephen Murphy, via the internet.

Good question. "To boot" is one of those phrases we use constantly (I do, anyway) but rarely think about. And we're certainly living in a "to boot" culture. Rent a car and they throw in airline tickets to boot. Buy home siding and they give you a television to boot. File a tax return and they give you a free ride to the cleaners to boot. That last one may not count, but you know what I mean.

One might assume that "to boot" must have something to do with our normal, pedestrian sort of boot. One would, however, be wrong. The boot you wear on your foot (one of a pair, under optimal conditions) comes from the Old French "bote." The verb "to boot" also comes from this footwear sense, meaning "to kick" or "to kick out." The use of "to boot" meaning "to start the process by which a computer gets itself up and running" harks back to the phrase "to pick oneself up by one's bootstraps," meaning to be self-sufficient and enterprising.

"To boot" meaning "in addition" comes, however, from an entirely different source. The Old English "bot" meant "advantage or good," and came in turn from the root Germanic "bat," meaning "good or useful," which was also the source of our modern "better" and "best." This sense of "boot" as "something good" led to its use, at various points, to mean "a remedy," "a mending" "compensation for wrongs," and even "expiation of sins." There was even a right of "boot," meaning the custom of permitting a tenant to repair his house with lumber from his landlord's forest. And "to do boot" was to do a good deed or render a favor to someone.

Of all these senses, however, only our modern sense of "to boot" as meaning "in addition," which first appeared way back around A.D. 1000, still survives in common usage today.”

Thanks, Debbie. Now I can sleep at night. I was stuck because my trivia goddess is out of town. Who to ask? Where to check?


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