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Tom’s words

Escapades in etymology

By Tom Chatfield   September 2008

What’s in a name? Roses smell sweet whatever you call them, but they’re unlikely to sell as well if termed, say, “chopped veg.” Branding (from the Old English brond, “a piece of burning wood” and, later, “an identifying mark made by a hot iron”) is the biggest of all verbal businesses—and a more ancient one than you might think. The oldest known brand name was found in the ruins of Pompeii on a wine jar. It reads Vesuvinum, a punning contraction of Vesuvius (the local volcano) and the Latin vinum (wine), and dates from 79 AD, the year Vesuvius explosively…

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