Etymology

Think of the hundreds, thousands, even hundreds of thousands of words we use every single day of our lives. Each one of them comes from somewhere; somebody in our past used it for the first time at some point.  So what was their inspiration? Where did they get it from? Is it a combination of other words? Taken from another language? Made up in its entirety? Well hopefully this page will answer some of those questions.



 A

 

AFICIONADO

A person who is very knowledgable and enthusiastic about an activity, subject, or pasttime.

 

From Spanish aficionado “amateur,” specifically “devotee of bullfighting,” literally “fond of,” from afición “affection,” from Latin affectionem. In English, originally of devotees of bullfighting.

A

 

AMAZON

A race of legendary female warriors believed by the Ancient Greeks to have lived in Scythia.

Latin from Greek Amazōn ‘without a breast’ from a- ‘without’ + mazos ‘breast’, referring to the fable that the Amazons cut off the right breast so as not to interfere with the use of a bow.

 

B

BEVERAGE

 

A drink other than water. (chiefly in commercial use)

 

From Old French bevrage, taken from Old French boivre “to drink”

 

B

BOYCOTT

Withdraw from commercial or social relations with a country, organisation, or person as a punishment or protest.

From the Irish Land League ostracism of Capt. Charles C. Boycott (1832-1897), land agent of Lough-Mask in County Mayo, who refused to lower rents for his tenant farmers. To boycott something is even recognised in Japan where it is known as boikotto.

C

COPROLALIA

The involuntary and repetitive use of obscene language as a symptom of mental illness, or organic brain disease.

From French coprolalie, coined 1885 by de la Tourette, from copro (dung, filth) + Greek lalia (talk, prattle) from lalein (to speak, prattle) So that’s literally having a shitty mouth.

C

CARTON

A small, light box or container in which drinks or foodstuffs are packaged.

1816, from French carton “pasteboard” (17c.), from Italian cartone “pasteboard,” augmentative of Medieval Latin carta “paper” . Originally the material for making paper boxes; extended 1906 to the boxes themselves. 

D

 

DISTINGUISH

Recognise or treat (someone or something) as different, manage to discern (something barely perceptable).

From the Latin distinguere “to separate between, keep separate, mark off, distinguish,” perhaps literally “separate by pricking,” from dis “apart” + stinguere “to prick” Hmmm so perhaps it’s not such an honour to be deemed distinguished.

D

 

DAILY

Done, produced, or occurring every day or every weekday.

Old English dæglic. This form is known from compounds: twadæglic “happening once in two days,” þreodæglic “happening once in three days;” the more usual Old English word was dæghwamlic, also dægehwelc.

E

EUPHORIA

A feeling or state of intense excitement and happiness.

From Greek euphoria “power of enduring easily,” from euphoros, literally “bearing well,” from eu “well” + pherein “to carry”.

E

EARTH

The planet on which we live; the world.

Old English eorþe “ground, soil, dirt, dry land; country, district,” also used (along with middangeard) for “the (material) world, the abode of man” (as opposed to the heavens or the underworld), from Proto-Germanic *ertho).



F


FUNDAMENTAL

 

Forming a necessary base or core; of central importance. A central or primal rule or principle.

 

From the Late Latin fundamentalis, meaning “of the foundation,” which itself is from the earlier Latin fundamentum. In the interests of humour, fundamentum is also the foundation of fundament (13c), meaning buttocks or anus.


F


FABULOUS

 

Extraordinary, especially extraordinarily large.

 

Early 15c., “mythical, legendary,” from Latin fabulosus “celebrated in fable;” also “rich in myths,” from fabula “story, tale” ). Meaning “pertaining to fable” is from 1550s. Sense of “incredible” first recorded c. 1600, hence “enormous, immense, amazing,” which was trivialised by 1950s to “marvelous, terrific.”.


G


GLAMOUR

 

An attractive or exciting quality that makes certain people or things seem appealing.

 

Scottish, “magic, enchantment” (especially in phrase to cast the glamor), a variant of Scottish gramarye “magic, enchantment, spell,”


G


GAFFER

 

A person in charge of others; a boss.

 

1580s, “elderly rustic,” apparently (based on continental analogies) a contraction of Godfather. Originally a term of respect, also applied familiarly; from “old man” it was extended by 1841 to foremen and supervisors, which sense carried over in early 20c. to “electrician in charge of lighting on a film set.”


H

 


HOOLIGAN

 

A violent young troublemaker, typically one of a gang.

 

The Houligans, an Irish family living in London were considered to be a ‘lively’ bunch and were rumored to have fought the police on numerous noise complaints. The word Hooligan began appearing in newspaper police reports in the 1890s in reference to noisy Irishmen. If only modern day hooligans were purely noise nuisances.


H

 


HYSTERIA

 

Exaggerated or uncontrollable emotion or excitement.

 

From Latin hystericus “of the womb,” from Greek hysterikos “of the womb, suffering in the womb,” from hystera “womb” . Originally defined as a neurotic condition peculiar to women and thought to be caused by a dysfunction of the uterus. If you really want a shock, type Victorian cures for Hysteria into your search engine.


I


INFANT

 

A very young child or baby. Denoting something in an early stage of its development.

 

From Latin infantem (infans) “young child, babe in arms,” – meaning “not able to speak,” from in “not, opposite of” + fans, present participle of fari “to speak,”.


I


INK

 

A coloured fluid or paste used for writing, drawing, printing, or duplicating.

 

“The black liquor with which men write”, mid-13c., from Old French enche, encre “dark writing fluid” (12c.), earlier enque (11c.), originally enca, from Late Latin encaustum, from Late Greek enkauston


J


JUMBO

 

A very large person or thing.

 

Simply an eponym, the original Jumbo being an African elephant; he stood 4m tall and people flocked to see him wherever he was displayed. P.T. Barnum bought Jumbo and shipped him to the US. While being displayed in Canada Jumbo was hit by a train and killed. He was stuffed, mounted and displayed. So the next time you eat a jumbo hotdog, think of that poor elephant.


J

JACKPOT

 

A large cash prize in a game or lottery, especially one that accumulates until it is won.

 

“Big prize,” 1944, from slot machine sense (1932), from obsolete poker sense (1881) of antes that begin when no player has a pair of jacks or better; from jack (n.) in the card-playing sense + pot. Earlier, in criminal slang, it meant “trouble,” especially “an arrest” .



K

KARAOKE

A form of entertainment whereby people sing popular songs over a backing track, usually in bars or restaurants.

Japanese, from kara “empty” + oke “orchestra,” a shortened form of okesutora which in turn is a Japanese form of orchestra.

K

KALEIDOSCOPE

A toy consisting of a tube containing mirrors and pieces of coloured glass or paper, whose reflections produce changing patterns when the tube is rotated.

1817, literally “observer of beautiful forms,” coined by its inventor, Scottish scientist David Brewster (1781-1868), from Greek kalos “beautiful”  + eidos “shape” + -scope.

L

LOVE

A strong feeling of affection.

Old English lufu, of Germanic origin; from an Indo-European root shared by the Sanskrit lubhyati ‘desire’ hence Latin libet ‘it is pleasing’, libido ‘desire’ In French lufu’s similarity to l’eouf (egg) which in turn resembles (kind of) the (non) number 0 and is why in tennis, a score of zero is called, Love.

L

LEGO

A construction toy consisting of interlocking plastic building blocks

Proprietary name (in use since 1934, according to the company), from Danish phrase leg godt “play well.” The founder, Ole Kirk Christiansen, didn’t realize until later that the word meant “I study” or “I put together” in Latin.

M

MALARIA

Intermittent and remittent fever caused by a protozoan parasite transmitted by mosquitoes in many tropical and subtropical regions.

From the medieval Italian mal =bad and aria =air, describing the miasma from the swamps around Rome. This ‘bad air’ was believed to be the cause of the fever that often developed in those who spent time around the swamps.

M

MELANCHOLY

A feeling of pensive sadness, typically with no obvious cause

From Old French melancolie “black bile, ill disposition, anger, annoyance” (13c.), from Late Latin melancholia, from Greek melankholia “sadness,” literally (excess of) “black bile,” from melas (genitive melanos) “black”  + khole“bile”. Medieval physiology attributed depression to excess of “black bile,” a secretion of the spleen and one of the body’s four “humors.” .

N

NERD

A single-minded expert in a particular technical field. A foolish or contemptible person who lacks social skills or is boringly studious.

Thought to be an alteration of the 1940s US slang nert (nut) “stupid or crazy person,”. “Nerd” appeared in the 1950 book; If I Ran The Zoo, by Dr Seuss.

N

NADA

Nothing.

“Nothing,” 1933, slang, introduced by Hemingway, from Spanish nada “nothing,” from Latin (res) nata “small, insignificant thing,” literally “(thing) born” .

O

OAF

A man who is rough or clumsy and unintelligent.

From Old Norse álfr ‘elf’. Originally ‘elf’s child, changeling’, later becoming ‘idiot child’ and ‘halfwit’ .

O

OPINION

A view or judgement formed about something, not necessarily based on fact or knowledge.

c. 1300, from Old French opinion “opinion, view, judgements founded upon probabilities” (12c.), from Latin opinionem (nominative opinio) “opinion, conjecture, fancy, belief, what one thinks; appreciation, esteem,” from stem of opinari “think, judge, suppose, opine,” from pie “to choose” .

P

PORCELAIN

A white vitrified translucent ceramic; China.

From Italian porcellana (Cowrie Shell), porcelain is so named due to its resemblance to the shell’s interior, it is an unfortunate fact that the shell in turn is named for its visual similarity to a young sow (porcella)’s vulva. I’m suddenly less impressed with my vintage tea set.

P

PORTMANTEAU

A large travelling bag, typically made of stiff leather and opening into two equal parts.

From Middle French portemanteau “traveling bag,” originally “court official who carried a prince’s mantle” (1540s), from porte, imperative of porter “to carry” + manteau “cloak”. How lovely is this, a cloak carrier; I need to go and buy myself a cloak.

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Q

 

QUARANTINE

A state, period, or place of isolation in which people or animals that have arrived from elsewhere or been exposed to infectious or contagious disease are placed.

From the French quarante (forty); when aine is added it acts as the English suffix –ish ,hence quarantine lasting roughly forty days. Originally when a ship arriving in port was suspected of being infected with disease, its cargo and crew were kept in enforced isolation for a period of forty or so days this became known as quarantine.

Q

 

QUEASY

Nauseous; feeling sick.

Mid-15c., kyse, coysy, of uncertain origin, possibly from a Scandinavian source, such as Old Norse kveisa “boil,” perhaps influenced by Anglo-French queisier, from Old French coisier “to wound, hurt, make uneasy,” which seems to be from the same Germanic root as kveisa..

R

 

READ

Look at and comprehend the meaning of (written or printed matter) by interpreting the characters or symbols of which it is composed.

Old English rǣdan, of Germanic origin; raten ‘advise, guess’. Early usage included ‘advise’ and ‘interpret’ (a riddle or dream).

R

 

RECITE

Repeat aloud or declaim (a poem or passage) from memory before an audience.

Early 15c., from Old French reciter (12c.) and directly from Latin recitare “read aloud, read out, repeat from memory, declaim,” from re- “back, again” + citare “to summon”.

S

 

SCAPEGOAT

A person who is blamed for the wrongdoings, mistakes, or faults of others, especially for reasons of expediency.

Originally a Biblical reference to a passage in Leviticus. The scapegoat was a goat let loose in the wilderness on Yom Kippur after the high priest symbolically laid the sins of the people on its head.

S

 

SACHET

A small sealed bag or packet containing a small quantity of something.

“Small perfumed bag,” 1838, from French sachet (12c.), diminutive of sac . A reborrowing of a word that had been used 15c. in the sense “small bag, wallet.”.

T

 

TABLE

An article of furniture consisting of a flat, slablike top supported on one or more legs or other supports.

Before 900; (noun) Middle English; Old English tabule, variant of tabula <Latin: plank, tablet.

T

 

TINKER

person skilled in various minor kinds of mechanical work; jack-of-all-trades.

1225-75; Middle English tinkere (noun), syncopated variant of tinekere worker in tin.

U

UMBRELLA

A light, small, portable, usually circular cover for protection from rain or sun, consisting of a fabric held on a collapsible frame of thin ribs radiating from the top of a carrying stick or handle.

Italian ombrella, earlier variant of ombrello< Late Latin umbrella, alteration (with influence of Latin umbra shade) of Latin umbella sunshade.

U

UTTER

To give audible expression to; speak or pronounce.

C. 1400, in part from Middle Dutch uteren or Middle Low German utern “to turn out, show, speak,” from uter “outer,” comparative adjective from ut “out”; in part from Middle English verb outen “to disclose,” from Old English utan “to put out,” from ut . Compare German äussern “to utter, express,” from aus “out;” and colloquial phrase out with it “speak up!”.

V

 

VEND

To sell as one’s business or occupation, especially by peddling.

1620s, from Latin vendere “to sell, give for a bribe; praise, cry up,” contraction of venumdare “offer for sale,” from venum “for sale” + dare “to give”.

V

 

VIABLE

Capable of living.

1828, from French viable “capable of life” (1530s), from vie “life” from Latin vita “life;” + -able. Originally of newborn infants; generalized sense is first recorded 1848. .

W

 

WEALTH

An abundance or profusion of anything; plentiful amount.

Mid-13c., “happiness,” also “prosperity in abundance of possessions or riches,” from Middle English wele “well-being”  an analogy of health.

W

 

WARRANT

Something that serves to give reliable or formal assurance of something; guarantee, pledge, or security.

Late 13c., “to keep safe from danger,” from Old North French warantir “safeguard, protect; guarantee, pledge” (Old French garantir), from warant . Meaning “to guarantee to be of quality” is attested from late 14c.; sense of “to guarantee as true” is recorded from c. 1300. .

X

Xmas

Informal term for Christmas.

From 1551 X’temmas where the X signifies Christ; the English letter X being identical in form (but not sound signification) to Greek chi, the first letter of Greek Christos “Christ”.

X

Xenophobia

Dislike of, or prejudice against people from other countries.

1903 From xeno, meaning foreign or strange and phobia, fear of.

Y

Yawn

Involuntarily open one’s mouth wide and inhale deeply due to tiredness or boredom.

c. 1300, yenen, yonen, from Old English ginian, gionian “open the mouth wide, yawn, gape,”.

Y

Yeti

A large hairy creature resembling a human or bear, said to live in the highest part of the Himalayas.

1937, from Sherpa (Tibetan) yeh-teh “small manlike animal.” .

Z

Zenith

The point in the sky or celestial sphere directly above an observer.

Late 14c., from Old French cenith (Modern French zénith), from Medieval Latin cenit, senit,  derived from incorrect scribal transliterations of Arabic samt “road, path,”.

Z

Zodiac

A belt of the heavens within about 8° either side of the ecliptic, including all apparent positions of the sun, moon, and most familiar planets. It is divided into twelve equal divisions or signs (Aries, Taurus, Gemini, Cancer, Leo, Virgo, Libra, Scorpio, Sagittarius, Capricorn, Aquarius, Pisces).

From Greek zodiakos (kyklos) “zodiac (circle),” literally “circle of little animals,”.