Friday, 1 July 2016
Always good to start a holiday weekend with a few words. (Holiday offer good in the U.S. and Canada only. Words offer good anywhere, anytime.)
The new-to-me word this week is ratting, a verbed form of RAT, which stands for "remote access Trojan." A RAT is software that's installed on a computer to let someone control it or spy on the user; ratting is the installation of such software. By ratting, a hacker can log your keystrokes (thus capturing passwords), use your camera, monitor your microphone, and engage in other nefarious activities. I got the term from an article in The New York Times that encourages people to cover their cameras when not using them. (I do this.)
I should note that RAT can also stand for "remote access tool," and that there are legitimate reasons for letting someone control your computer. For example, it might be a way for a tech-support engineer to help you resolve a problem. But in the more sinister version of RAT and ratting, the purpose is malicious.
The term RAT is not new; I see references at least as far back as 2002. It's even spawned variants—a particular RAT for Android phones is referred to as an AndroRAT. The verb ratting is somewhat newer, and the NYT article still has it in quotation marks to signal its newness. I find a reference to the verb in Wired from 2013.
Fun fact: ratting is a plot point in the TV series Mr. Robot.
On to unexpected etymology. We recently started watching Indian Summers, a miniseries/melodrama set in 1932 India. In one scene, a character asks the bartender for a club soda, which got me wondering. Was this perhaps an anachronism? And what club did club soda refer to?
The OED reveals that club soda (or Club Soda) started as a brand name of the company Cantrell & Cochrane in Dublin. The brand name goes back to 1877, so that's one question answered—it wasn't an anachronism in the TV program we were watching. The term has of course been genericized to refer to carbonated water generally.
My investigations did take an interesting turn, because another term for club soda is seltzer, at least in certain areas of the U.S. This is actually more interesting—seltzer comes from the town Nieder-Selters in Germany, which was a source of naturally occurring carbonated mineral water. Reading between the lines of the OED, I extrapolate that seltzer was probably Selterserwasser—Selters-water—at some point in its development, seltzer therefore being an adjectival form in German ("of Selters"), like hamburger and wiener. Anyway, seltzer water from Nieder-Selters was peddled as far back as the 1720s for its supposed health benefits. (A strategy still very much with us, hey.) The association between "seltzer" and carbonation and health was strong enough that it was the source of such brands as Bromo-Seltzer (1888) and Alka-Seltzer (1931). Anyway, this is what I learned from a short article on the CulinaryLore.com site.
I never did find out what club they meant when they named it Club Soda. If anyone should happen to know, I'm all ears.
Bonus etymology for Canada Day! The Canadian lexicographer Katherine Barber, a.k.a. Wordlady, examines the origin of poutine, that uniquely Canadian delicacy. (Haha: "Even my devotion to real-world research for the Canadian Oxford Dictionary could not persuade me to sample the Quebecois poutine.")
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Friday words, language