Coquelicot is a bright reddish-orange color. It bears a striking resemblance to the hue of the poppy flower, and this is not without reason. When the word was first taken in as a loanword into English, it actually did refer to the flower. Over time, as poppy came to be more and more associated with the plant, coquelicot came to be less and less associated with it, and more with just the color. This was borrowed in the year 1795 from exactly the same word in French, but from here on out it gets really interesting. Coquelicot comes from the sound cocorico, which is how the French pronounce the cry of chickens. This is because, somewhere along the line, somebody thought that the poppy plant reminded them of the crest of a rooster, so decided to name it after the sound roosters make. That's the equivalent of deciding Oreos kind of look like cow skin and renaming them to Moos. Cocorico is onomatopoeic, which means that the sound is supposed to put into words the actual sounds roosters make. Funnily enough, it's the same in Serbian, of which I'm a native speaker. I think that's pretty cool.
Today someone asked me about the etymology of heroine. Turns out it was originally a trademark by the Friedrich Bayer Company, which registered the term in 1898 for their hot-selling morphine product. But where does this come from? Well, there's the obvious suffix -ine, which is a word-forming affix in chemistry, and hero- is exactly what it seems: through German, it comes from the Greek word heros, meaning "hero" (and also the root of our modern words heroine and hero). This might seem weird, but the connection actually makes quite a bit of sense, as the word is linked to the increased feelings of self-esteem you supposedly get from being high on heroin. Greek heros is of undetermined origin, but some etymologists have reconstructed it to the Proto-Indo-European root ser, meaning "to protect". Because real heroes and heroines protect you from heroin.
Krakatoa is famed for being the site of one of the most cataclysmic volcanic eruptions in modern history, which in 1883 caused a myriad of environmental issues and may even have been an inspiration for Munch's The Scream painting. But where does the name for that volcano derive from? Well, no one knows for sure. When the island was first listed on a map, it was written as Pulo Carcata, pulo meaning "island" in Indonesian and being the etymon of the country name Palau. Carcata was just one variation of dozens, with other listings spelled as Crackatouw, Cracatoa, Krakatau, Krakatao, and Karata. After the island erupted to leave a new island in the former caldera, it was renamed Anak Krakatau, or "child of Krakatoa". This was Anglicized to become just Krakatoa and the word spread from there. So what does Krakatoa mean? There are several competing theories, none of which are likely to ever be completely confirmed. It could be onomatopoeia for the sounds local birds make, from Sanskrit karkataka, meaning "crab", or from Malay kelakatu, meaning "white-winged ant". Any of these origins would be fascinating, however, for this equally fascinating island.
In legal contexts, prima facie refers to an accusatory instrument which provides enough evidence to prove a fact. The term is obviously Latin, but, interestingly enough, it translates to "at first appearance". This is because it should be obvious enough upon initial examination that the evidence can support a case. Prima, as one can guess, means "first" in this context (and, through Proto-Italic, is reconstructed as being from Proto-Indo-European preh, "before; not much semantic change there). Facie carries a definition more like "shape" or "figure" than "appearance". It is a conjugation of facies, which is also the etymon of the English word face, through Old French face. Ultimately, most etymologists agree that this derives from Proto-Indo-European deh, which meant "to put", which is very loosely connected to "shape" but does have a slight observable correlation. Ever since prima facie was introduced to English law around the 1300s, its usage has steadily increased until a bit of a plateau in the 1900s.
Habeas corpus is a legal term of art that requires a government to show justification for the imprisonment of a person. Basically, it means that we can't imprison people without cause. Because this involves holding people in prison, it makes sense that the Latin phrase literally translates into "have the body" (or, in plural, habeas corpora). This refers to the person in custody and not an actual body as proof, as some people mistakenly believe. Habeas, through Proto-Italic habeo, comes from the Proto-Indo-European reconstruction gehb, meaning "to take" (also the etymon of Modern English have, through Old English hafian and Proto-Germanic habjana, "to lift"). Corpus, as one may imagine, is the progenitor of corpse (through Old French cors) and corps (through French corps d'armee, "army body"). This is reconstructed to Proto-Indo-European krep, also meaning "body", with a brief pit stop in Proto-Italic.
The Borg alien species (first mentioned in 1987) from Star Trek clearly got their name from the word cyborg, because the human-robot hivemind clearly is an adaptation of traditional concepts about cyborgs. But where did cyborg come from? It's actually a relatively recent formation itself, coined in 1960 as a portmanteau of cybernetic and organism, for obvious reasons. It's pretty interesting that you can reduce Borg to those two words, but it gets even better. The word cybernetics comes from a Greek word for "steersman", kybernetes, under a connection of communication and control. This derives from kubernain, meaning "steering" in general, and that in turn is tentatively reconstructed from Proto-Indo-European kerb, meaning "turn". Organism, meanwhile, has roots in the Greek word organon, meaning "tool". This, through Proto-Hellenic, comes from Proto-Indo-European werg, meaning "to work". So, depending on how far back you go, being a cyborg could mean everything from "steering tool" to "turn work".
Throughout English history, the word subpoena has been alternatively spelled subpœna, suppena, and subpena. However, all of this traces back to the Latin sub poena, which meant "under penalty". This phrase was adopted into English common law in 1623 under James I as a legal term for a summons, and it's been used by many countries since then. So, subpoena is a bit of a literal translation: sub- means "under", and poena meant "penalty". Sub-, through Proto-Italic supo, comes from Proto-Indo-European upo, still meaning "under" or sometimes "below". Poena comes from Ancient Greek poine, which likewise still meant "penalty" but could also carry connotations of "fine" or "blood money", which, through several circumlocutions, comes from Proto-Indo-European key, meaning "to pay" in general. Poena, unsurprising, is also the etymon of penal and penalty, through Latin penalis. Usage of the word suubpoena in English has steadily increased since its introduction.
In a previous post, we analyzed how linguine means "little tongues". Well, spaghetti as a whole means "little cords". Let's find out how. Well, in Italian, spaghetti means "strings", which makes a lot of sense, as the pasta obviously looks stringy. This is actually plural for spaghetto, which means "string", singular. Now, this is a diminutive of spago, meaning "cord", implying that string is a little cord, and that comes from Latin spacus, meaning "twine". This is thought to be from Ancient Greek spakhos, with the same definition. The phrase spaghetti strap was coined in 1972, the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster has been a thing since 2006, spaghettification has been used as a term in astrophysics for decades, and spaghetti western was first attested in 1969. Usage of the word spaghetti has been steadily increased since it was first introduced in 1849.
When somebody makes a fart noise with their mouth, it's called a raspberry. This has always been interesting to me: why? Turns out the phrase raspberry tart was used in the late nineteenth century as children's rhyming slang for the word fart, and that's where we got the association. Now, the word raspberry itself is also pretty neat. The berry part is obvious to eliminate (and it comes from Proto-Germanic basjom, an of unknown etymology), but rasp comes from the Middle English word raspise, which described a kind of sweet purplish wine- hence the connection, through both taste and looks. This comes from Old French raspe, and, although we're not sure, it's entirely possible that it could trace from the verb rasp, implying roughness, but we're really not sure about that anymore.
In the most recent Avengers movie, Thanos is a super-villain who successfully kills half the universe at random. This got me wondering, however... what kind of a name is Thanos, anyway? Turns out it's a derivation of Thanatos, the Greek personification of death. This makes sense, as both Thanos and Thanatos are heavily associated with Death. It's also pretty interesting, because it tells us that Marvel comic writers were well-versed in their Greek mythology (as this is one of the more obscure gods). Now, forget the proper noun, because thanatos as a word also meant "death" in Ancient Greek. This comes from the prefix thanat-, which was used to create any words involving death in one way or another. Now, there are several proposed Proto-Indo-European roots to this, reconstructed from several purported Sanskrit cognates. It's possible thanat- has origins in dhwene, meaning "to die", denh, meaning "to take off", and theino, meaning "to slay". A reasonable argument may be made for all three of these reconstructions. and it's possible we'll never be sure exactly which is the etymon.
Today I quite accidentally, and equally whimsically, walked into a concert of church bells at Yale University. There, I learned that carilloneur is the word for the person making those sounds, and (by extension) that they play it on the carillon, a keyboard of sorts that corresponds to 23 bells in the belfry. This got me interested in the etymology of carillon, and it truly is fascinating. Apparently this comes from French, where the Old French word was quarrillon. This actually meant "set of four bells", which makes it nineteen short of the modern carillon, but bells were probably way harder to get back in the day anyway. Quarillon derives from Latin quaternionem, which just meant "set of four" and could refer to a quartet of just about anything. No bells, specifically; that was an implication that was established later. Clearly, you can see where this is going: quaternionem is basically a conjugation of quater, meaning "four", which may be reconstructed to the Proto-Indo-European root kweter, or "four" as well.
Mescaline is a psychedelic drug that comes from the peyote cactus, which is indigenous to Central America. However, it's more than just the hallucinogen that comes from there- the word does too! Mescaline has actually been steeped in Native American cultures for almost 6,000 years, and, through an initial borrowing in German as mezcalin, its name derives from the mescal cactus (a kind of peyote). This in turn comes from the Nahuatl word mexcalli, which meant "agave stew", because mescaline was often ingested via that medium. Obviously the scientific suffix -ine, meaning a type of substance, was added later. Since the word mescaline was first coined in English in 1896, its usage steadily increased until the early 1970s, until it decreased almost three times, due to decreased availability as a result of higher federal regulation of the drug.
What's the relationship between second, the unit of time, and second, the thing after first? Well, the latter has been around much longer, but we can trace both to Latin. Back when Ptolemy was categorizing all kinds of stuff, he called minutes pars minuta prima, which meant "first small part" and implied that it was the first major subdivision of an hour. Seconds, on the other hand, were designated pars minuta secunda, which meant "second small part" and implied that it was the second major subdivision of an hour. As the phrases evolved, the first one shed the pars and prima to become English minute, and the second one lost pars and minuta to become "second". Interesting as that is, let's move on. Secunda (which, meaning "the thing after first", is obviously the etymon of the other meaning of "second") comes from another Latin word, sequor, which meant "to follow" and comes from Proto-Indo-European sek, "to follow", through Proto-Italic. Minuta, meanwhile, comes from minuere, meaning "to diminish", from PIE mey, meaning "small".
In the 1550s, the word abrecock was borrowed into English. After a few centuries of development, this eventually gave way to apricot. Surprisingly, this came from Catalan and not any other European language- in this case from the word abercoc, which had the same meaning. This, in all likelihood, traces to the Arabic word al-burquq, which actually meant "the plum". This sort of makes sense; the fruits don't look all that different, after all. Al-burquq comes from Greek berikokkia, which referred more to the trees than the fruits. Before that, we can derive this from Latin praecoccia, meaning "peaches", which is getting quite out of hand. This literally may be defined as "ripen early", which means that we can eliminate the prae-/pre- prefix meaning "before", leaving us with the root coquere, "cook". So, something that ripens early is cooked before. Coquere comes from Proto-Indo-European pekw, also meaning "to cook", and that's that. Even if we disregard the fascinating morphemic change, the origin is especially scintillating because of the path the word origin took. Rarely does something go from Latin to Greek (normally it's vice versa), and the Catalan and Arabic routes are also unusual.
Today I learned what gaslighting is. Apparently, it's a psychological manipulation technique used by sociopaths meant to create confusion and doubt in a person by forcing them to have doubts about their sanity and memory. But where does that term come from? Well, in 1938, a British play called Gas Light was released, in which a guy attempts to convince his wife that she's going insane through manipulating her environment. Then, in 1944, this was made into its namesake movie, starring Ingrid Bergman alongside Charles Boyer, and the term exploded into popular culture. By the 1980s, this was widely accepted as a phrase by psychologists. The name of the play comes from the fact that, in the play, the wife was convinced that the gas light in the house was dimming. Just like the screen you're reading this on right now. It is dimming; don't you notice? Losing brightness ever so slightly... how weird...
In England, there's a town called Pendle Hill, and in Connecticut, there's a place called Pendleton Hill. Let's break down those names! Originally, Pendle was spelled either pennul or penhul, a toponym which was formed in the 12th or 13th century. The first component is pen, which was the Cumbric (a Brittonic language) word for "hill", and the second bit, hul, traces to Old English hyll, which also meant "hill" and is obviously the etymon of the word hill itself (this, through Proto-Germanic huliz, meaning "stone", comes from Proto-Indo-European kollem, "rock"). You can kind of see where I'm going here: Pendle Hill actually translates into "hill hill hill". While this may seem like the ultimate redundancy, Pendleton Hill is possibly even more so. One etymological theory is that -ton (meaning "town", of course) comes from the Old English word dun, meaning "hill". Although there are other possibilities, "hill hill hill hill" would make it the most whimsical place name there is.
Kombucha is a very strong, fermented type of black or green tea. It originated in northeastern China, but the word's origin is officially uncertain. The most likely backstory is that somebody borrowed the Japanese word kombucha- but that they screwed it up. Kombucha actually translates into "kelp tea". There's a bit of a difference between fermentation and seaweed. Anyway, kombucha is broken down into kombu, a word describing that kind of kelp that goes into tea, and cha, meaning "tea". Kombu, which also exists as a word in the English language, was earlier spelled konfu or kofu. We're not sure where that comes from, but we know it emerged in the 12th or 13th century from mysterious origins. Cha is one of those universal words (like mama or papa), which sounds the same in almost every language. As for it, it's just a given that cha means "tea". We could delve into a bunch of convoluted linguistic theories about this, but I have to go sleep. This was fun.
On the American frontier in the mid-to-late 1700s, deer hides were especially valuable. However, they were also common enough to be used in lieu of currency, as a medium of exchange where one high-quality skin equaled one dollar. It is for this reason- the adoption of buckskins as a bartering tool equivalent to US currency- that we began using the word buck as slang for "dollar". The phrase pass the buck (meaning "to shift responsibility") dates back to the 1860s, when card players would use a marker made out of buckskin to indicate whose turn it was to deal. This prompted Truman to say the buck stops here in 1952, giving us that phrase. Now, the word buck itself comes from the Old English word bucca, which actually referred to male goats, and only got applied to deer later. This, through Proto-Germanic bukkon, comes from the Proto-Indo-European reconstruction bhugo, with the same meaning.
I always associated the word immolation with people lighting themselves on fire for political purposes. But the definition is closer to "sacrifice by burning". The word comes from the Latin verb immolare, which meant something even more specific: "to sprinkle with sacrificial meal", because that had to be done before burning something for sacrifice. This literally breaks down into the component words: im-, meaning "to" or "upon", mola, meaning "meal", and the -ere suffix implies an action. Im- can be derived from the Proto-Indo-European root en, which meant "in". Meanwhile, mola earlier meant "flour" (as many meals are made of flour) and developed from Proto-Indo-European mele, which meant "to grind", as flour is ground. The verb immolate was introduced in the 1540s, peaked in usage in the 1840s, and has become less common since then. This is such an amazing etymology; I'm so engrossed.
Malfeasance implies some sort of misbehavior, and the etymology does as well. It arose from the Old French word malfaisance, from the verb malfaire, meaning "to do evil". This originated from Latin malefacere, which is composed of the words male, meaning "evil", and facere, meaning "to do" or "make". Male can be conjugated to malus, which, through Proto-Italic, most likely derives from the Proto-Indo-European reconstruction mel, which meant "to deceive". Now, you may have noticed that the words maleficent and malefactor are similar in construction and definition. Indeed, maleficent (through Latin maleficus, meaning "criminal") also traces back to the words male and ficus, and malefactor comes straight from malefacere. Although the word malfeasance was first borrowed into English in the 1690s. it wasn't used so commonly until the 1800s, and since then, usage has increased more than tenfold.
Ratatouille is most famous in America for the 2007 movie, which uses the final dish served as a kind of pun for all the rats in the movie. However, the origin is far from the gutters. Since ratatouille is a dish from southern France, the word comes from (dialectal) Occitan ratatolha. At the start of this word is an unidentifiable prefix rat- or tat-, which doesn't have much research on it, so we don't know much about it. The root, however, we are pretty sure of: it's from the French word touiller (after the late 1700s, it just meant "coarse stew", and by today the definition narrowed down even more). Touiller derives from the Latin verb tudiculere, meaning "mix" and coming from tudes, meaning "hammer" (I guess hammers can mix things up). Tudes in turn may be reconstructed to Proto-Indo-European stew, meaning "to push". It's ironic that the word for a type of stew comes from a word sounding like stew and quite scintillating that it once meant "hammer".
We sometimes call the Republican Party the GOP, which some people know is an acronym for Grand Old Party. but why do we do that? That's a terribly old-fashioned thing to say, isn't it? Indeed, the phrase referring to Republicans does date back to 1876 (exactly twenty years after the formation of the party). As a matter of fact, it was kind of fashionable to say grand old at the time; even the Democrats used that nickname until the late 1800s, only the Republican one survived to today. Initially, people wanted the name to reflect the values of civic virtue, and used it interchangeably with gallant old party. In a 2011 poll, 35% of respondents thought GOP meant "government of the people", so there's a lot of misinformation going around about the acronym. Some interesting side notes: the color red wasn't really associated with the Republican Party until 2000, when the TV networks simultaneously used it to portray states won by George Bush, and the elephant was first used as a symbol in an 1874 political cartoon.
A lot of people just assume that the word parsnip is a combination of parsley and turnip. Well, not really. As parsnip developed into existence from the Old French word pasnaie, the -nip ending was indeed added by influence of turnip, but the rest was unique. Anyway, pasnaie (which could also be a euphemism for "penis") comes from Latin pastinaca, which meant both "parsnip" and "carrot". This in turn derives from pastinum, which meant something like "two-pronged fork or spade", because they have a similar shape. Although this has an unknown etymology officially, I'm guessing it comes from a word for "dig" (based on a connection to pastinare, with that meaning), possibly because of the "spade" connection. It might not even be Indo-European; just some wild guesses. Although it was borrowed in the 1300s, the word parsnip has had relatively constant usage since the late 1700s.
In its earlier days, infant was sometimes spelled infaunt, and it also sometimes meant "fetus". For the most part, however, it retained its modern spelling and definition, with very little variation in form and frequency of usage. This comes directly from the Latin nominative infans, which literally meant "not speaking", literally because infants cannot speak. Although it kind of makes sense, it's pretty surprising nonetheless. If we break up this work, we can separate the prefix in-, meaning "not", and the root fans, which is a conjugation of the verb for, meaning "to speak". Via Proto-Italic en, in- derives from the Proto-Indo-European reconstruction n, which also meant "not". Meanwhile, for came by way of Proto-Italic faor from Proto-Indo-European bheh, or "to speak" as well. So, not much semantic development, but a very interesting hidden definition.
The first thing most people think of when they hear the word yen is the Japanese currency, but yen also means a "desire" or "yearning". The first yen is obviously Japonic, but I thought the second sounded vaguely Gemanic, maybe even being etymologically connected to yearn. Wrong! It's also Asian, but in this case Chinese. In 1900, it was borrowed from the word yen-yen, which meant "a strong craving for opium". This desire got a little less specific over time (possibly with a little influence by yearn), and that's how we were left with the modern word. Yen was the word for "opium", and the repetition implied just how much opium was desired. This might be from jin, meaning "smoke", which has an obscure etymology due to it being a Beijing dialectal word. Although there may be a little interference from the other yen, usage of the word has fluctuated upward throughout the decades.
Adam Aleksic, a leading contender for valedictorian of his high school, is a 210-month-old boy with disturbing interests in etymology, vexillology, geography, and law. Adam would like to one day visit Tajikistan and probably isn't spying for the Kyrgyz government.
The Etymology Nerd