It's almost prom season, and almost nobody in my school realizes that prom is just a shortening of promenade. Right now, the word's main meanings are "to stroll" or "a place where you stroll", but earlier, it could also mean "a formal dance"- the definition that became prom as we know it. Promenade comes from the French word promener, meaning "to walk". That in turn comes from Latin prominare, "to move forward", a portmanteau of the prefix pro- (meaning "forward and coming from the Proto-Indo-European reconstruction per, "before") and the root mandare, which meant "to drive an animal", a way shepherds would walk (thus the connection). This, interestingly, is from minari, meaning "to threaten" and a conjugation of minae, "threat". Minae likely comes from a Proto-Indo-European word sounding like men and meaning "to project", which means that the word prom can be said to mean "projecting before" or "threatening forward", depending on how far back you go.
A milquetoast is a person who's meek and not very proactive. The word, curiously enough, is named after a comic strip character: Caspar Milquetoast from H.T. Webster's The Timid Soul. In the comic, he is portrayed as an indecisive, timid man, and he was so popular back in the 1930s that his name slipped into the general vernacular to describe somebody with a similar personality. When Webster named him, he chose milquetoast as an intentional misspelling of milk toast, a bland food considered to be unadventurous and good for meek people like Casper. The q further made it look effeminate. Milk comes from Old English meolc, from Proto-Germanic meluks, from Proto-Indo-European hmelg, which still had the same meaning (because this is something very basic that would remain constant in definition over time). Toast has a bit more interesting origin that I want to save for later, so let me just say it traces to Latin torrere, which meant "to burn". Ironically, milquetoast also became the name for a cockroach character in Berke Breathed's Bloom County comic.
A parasite is often ingested alongside food, so is it really that surprising that the word itself mean "beside food"? Because that's exactly the case. However, it's not for the reason I just listed. Originally, parasite only referred to humans who mooched off other humans, and got applied to other animals in the mere 1600s. So, through French parasite and Latin parasitus, the word traces back to the Ancient Greek word, which still meant the same thing, but literally could be defined at as "one who eats at another's table". This is a portmanteau of the word para, meaning "beside" (from the Proto-Indo-European word per, with the same definition), and sitos, which meant "food" and has an unknown etymology. The idea is evident: a parasite is one who eats beside the host without reciprocating. Usage of parasite peaked in 1911 and has decreased since.
Curiously enough, the word biscotti was not borrowed into English until the late 1980s, when it was adopted as the plural of Italian biscotto (so, technically, a biscotti is incorrect; it should be a biscotto). Meanwhile, the word biscuit, which has been around for far longer, came from the French word bescuit. It was borrowed in the 12th century and took the form bisket for a while, until people decided they wanted to return to the French roots of the word. Both of these are from the same etymon: Latin biscoctum, which meant "twice cooked". This particular definition was applied because biscuits and biscotti in the old times were baked twice in two separate ovens. Biscotum is composed of the prefix bis-, meaning "two" (it's a lesser known variant of bi-, coming from Proto-Indo-European dwis, with the same meaning), and coctus, which is a conjugation of coquere, meaning "to cook" or "ripen". The latter, through Proto-Italic keko, comes from PIE pek, also with the same definition.
In the early 1500s, England began training with the rest of Europe more frequently. In this process, they picked up the Lombard word articiocco. As that developed in English for the next few centuries, people began to mistakenly use -choke instead of -cioccio as the suffix simply because they thought it was right; this type of change, known as folk etymology, is particularly fascinating. Anyway, articioccio comes from the Old Spanish word alcarchofa, and since they had a lot of interactions with the Moors because of conquests and all that, alcarchofa comes from the Arabic word al-kursuf. Throughout all this time the word retained the meaning that we know today, but before then, it meant something different. Philologists theorize that the Arabic term may derive from the Akkadian word arsupu, which described a type of grainy, braid-like cereal, but also a type of fruit and a fish scales. Akkadians were weird. Usage of artichoke has been on the rise since its first, accidental emergence in the mid-1700s.
On the 12th of May in the year 1588, during the French Wars of Religion, an uprising in Paris called the Day of the Barricades temporarily ousted King Henry III from Paris. In it, the townspeople blocked off major entryways and points in the city and generally rioted until the Bastille surrendered. This was the first time barricades were set up in a Parisian revolt, but far from the last, as that would become a tactic used many times over. In this first barricade, it had to be set up quickly, so the rioters used anything on hand, including barrels full of soil and stones. The barrels were used so much that they took the Spanish word barricada, which literally meant "made of barrels", from the root barrica, "barrel". In older times, this was spelled barril, and before that, it likely came from Latin, because there are cognates in basically all of the Romance languages. However, there are no records of such a word, so this is just conjecture. It makes so much sense in retrospect; I can't believe the etymology was under my nose the whole time and I never noticed.
Manatees are giant herbivorous sea cows native to the Caribbean. Therefore, Europeans didn't come into contact with them until the Spanish started exploring the region. There, it is theorized that picked up a local Taino word for the animal, which subsequently became the Spanish word manati, and eventually English manatee. It's likely the indigenous word meant "breast", and was applied due to a shared connection of bulbousness between the two. However, the origin is disputed. Some etymologists trace it to the Latin word manatus, which means "having hands", from the root manus, "hand" (referring to the large flippers manatees have). This, through Proto-Italic, would originate in the Proto-Indo-European reconstruction for "hand", which varies from mehr to mehn to man. Usage of the word manatee has been steadily increasing since its first application in the 1750s, and likewise for Spanish since the 1630s.
Right now, a gargoyle refers to an entire stone statue, usually of a grotesque, mythical style. In earlier times, however, the word solely meant the mouth of the "gargoyle" we know today; specifically the spout where water would often come out of. This comes from the Old French word gargouille (sounds like a tasty soup in my opinion), from the older Old French word gargoule. This meant "throat", which is not much of a stretch from "gargoyle mouth" but is still pretty crazy if you step back and look at the whole picture. Additionally, gargoule gave us our verb gargle, so that's fascinating by itself. This comes from the Latin word gargola, with the same meaning. The first part of this, gar, is onomoatopoeic of actual gulping sounds, and the second part, gula, still meant "throat" in Latin (also the source of gullet, through French golet). Overall, these words most likely come from the Proto-Indo-European reconstruction gwele, which meant "to swallow" or something similar. That too is possibly imitative in origin.
A decal is a type of decorative design, but that word is actually a shortening of decalomania, which is the process of putting decorative designs onto things. This comes from the French word decalcomanie, with the same meaning. Eliminate the -manie suffix, and we're left with the word decalquer, which meant "to transfer" or "trace". Eliminate the de- prefix, and now we have calquer, a verb meaning "to imitate" (so the de- was a bit redundant). This is from Italian calcare, or "to press", and that comes, through a Latin cognate, from the noun calx, meaning "heel" (because heels press when you stomp on something). If you'll remember from four blog posts ago, this is also the origin of calque, which is quite interesting. As we've already discussed there, calx is from a Pre-Greek origin which is obscure to us. In a bizarre plot twist, it is likely that the word cockamamie comes from decalomania, because that actually once referred to decals before it was taken on as a word for something ridiculous later on.
Most people think that the letters in the SAT stand for "Scholastic Aptitude Test". While that it is indeed what it was called when it first came out in 1926, the truth today is very different. You see, there was an error in its naming: the SAT does not actually measure aptitude, which is a natural ability. It's more of an assessment of learned abilities, so the College Board renamed the SAT to be the Scholastic Assessment Test in 1993, under mounting pressure. However, people hated the new name even more, because since "assessment" is just a word for "test", "Scholastic Test Test" is kind of redundant. Eventually, in 1997, the College Board just gave up, with one representative declaring that "the SAT has become the trademark; it doesn't stand for anything. The SAT is the SAT, and that's all it is." Basically, the three letters mean absolutely nothing, and if you're wondering why they didn't just make a new acronym, it's because changing the name would be "too confusing". Funnily enough, this type of development occurs relatively frequently. KFC used to be "Kentucky Fried Chicken" until fried foods got a bad rep in the '90s, when the company just dropped all meaning associated with the letters. The same is true for AT&T, AARP, ESPN, ACT (the SAT's sister test, ironically), and many others.
Today, the word livid has two definitions: "furious" and "pale". Both of these interpretations can be traced back to the same Old French word: livide, which meant "blueish". While we may not call someone "blue with rage" nowadays, that's exactly what they did back in the thirteenth century, and the meaning soon got extended to anger. Nobody's quite sure how "blue" turned into "pale" for the second definition we use today, but a shift from one color to another is not all that strange. This all comes from the Latin word lividus, which "bluish" or even "black and blue", and in turn is from the verb livere, meaning "to be bluish". Due to centuries of soft pronunciation, this had lost the s that originally preceded it, making the true Latin etymon slivere. This, through Proto-Italic sliwo, comes from the reconstructed Proto-Indo-European root sleia, which still had connotations of the color "blue". Usage of the word livid has surprisingly decreased almost 85% since its peak in the 1770s.
Kiribati is an archipelago nation out in the Pacific Ocean, and until recently I always thought it had some kind of exotic native name. I also believed that it was pronounced like it was spelled, and, boy, was I wrong on both parts. It's actually pronounced kiri-bas, because that's the way plurals work in the local Gilbertese language. Now the word for the nation comes from the English name Gilberts (yes, there was a lot of modification), which was named after Captain Thomas Gilbert, who did a lot of discovering of islands in the Pacific-Indian ocean area. Yes, the local language is also named after him; he made a real impact on the culture, apparently. Anyway, the surname Gilbert comes from the Proto-Germanic roots gislaz, meaning "pledge", and berhtaz, meaning "bright". Respectively, these terms come from Proto-Indo-European gheydh, meaning "desire", and Proto-Indo-European bherhg, or "to shine". Despite all these IE roots, I think it's really cool how a common English last name came to be applied for not only a country's name but also the language they speak there.
In etymology, a calque is a word or phrase that is directly translated from one language to another. For example, the phrase "flea market" uses English words that directly translate from the French phrase marché aux puces. Meanwhile, a loanword in linguistics is a term taken from another language with no attempt at translation and minimal to no modification, For example, we use the phrase faux pas, which is a loanword from French. Anyway, the reason I'm boring you with this linguistic jargon is to introduce a mind-blowing fact: the word calque is a loanword, and the word loanword is a calque! Let's break it down. Calque was loaned from French calque, which meant "a copy". This comes from the verb calquer, which meant "to trace", which comes from Italian calcare ("limestone"; the connection was tracing veins of rock). This is from Latin calcare, or "to press" (because rocks are pressed), which is from calx, meaning "heel" (you can press with your heel), from a Pre-Greek word meaning "pebble". Now, onto loanword! It's a calque of the German phrase lehnwort, which was translated directly into English. These terms are pretty boring on both sides and go back to Proto-Germanic and PIE. I thought that switch was pretty whimsical.
Back in the 1530s in Italy, a new kind of lottery game emerged called Lo Giuoco del Lotto D'Italia. In it, each player had a sort of numbered grid, and if their numbers were drawn out of a bag, they would win. This game became especially popular in pre-Revolution France, where they changed the grid size. The first person to make a horizontal row would win. In the 1800s, the game was used in Germany to help children with math. Eventually, this found its way to America in the early 1900s. Here, people needed a way to keep track of what tiles were called without marking the paper, so they could reuse sheets. They made use with what they had, and they had beans. It was because of this that the game came to be called beano, and players would shout out beano! if they had their beans lined up in any row, column, or diagonal. Much easier to say than Lo Giuoco del Lotto D'Italia, anyway. Later, somebody somewhere accidentally said bingo! instead of beano! and it stuck, mainly because it gave the sound a more satisfying and ringing tone No connection to Old MacDonald.
We power things with batteries, a battery can be a violent crime, and a battery can also be a fortification of artillery. How are these words etymologically connected? Well, the "electrical cell" definition came from the "artillery" definition: when Benjamin Franklin invented the precursor to the battery in the late 1740s, he named it after the artillery because of a shared connection of discharges. And that "artillery" meaning came from the "physical assault" meaning because a battery firing on enemy walls was an act of battery itself. This, finally, comes from the Middle French word baterie, which still meant "beating", from Old French batre, from Latin battuere, still with the same meaning. This, surprisingly, is purported to have a Gaulish origin, which is hypothesized due to cognates in Welsh, Irish, Gaelic, and nowhere else. Eventually, the Gaulish root in turn may derive from the Proto-Indo-European root bhau, meaning "to strike", but that's just conjecture at that point.
It seems so obvious now, though I never would have guessed it earlier. The word varsity, referring to the highest tier of sports in high school or college, comes from the word university! This will come as no shock to people outside of North America, as Anglophone countries on all other countries still use that as slang for "university". That, however, was transcended in the US where I live, making it all the more interesting. This whole formation was a dialectical matter, a word shift based on an accent that occurred way back in the early 1800s. Before then, the word university came from the Old French word universite, from Latin universitas, from universus, a word which meant "entire" or "whole" (this referred to colleges being entire communities of scholars). This is a portmanteau, of uni-, meaning "one" (from Proto-Indo-European oynus, "one"), and versus, meaning "turn" (from Proto-Indo-European wertti, "turn around"). Together, this "one turn" made something "whole", figuratively speaking.
Mesoamerican natives have been eating chocolate since about 300 BCE, and it therefore is a huge part of their culture. A part that, luckily for the rest of the world, was passed on to the Spanish from them, along with the word , which subsequently diffused into English. The conquistadors got the word from the same source as that of the chocolate -the Aztecs- where, in Nahuatl, it was chocolatl, with the same meaning. Since the language was not recorded at the time, tracing a further origin is difficult, but there are some theories. Most etymologists familiar with the topic believe that the suffix -atl is from the Nahuatl word for "water" (sometimes spelled athl), but the first part of the word is somewhat debated. It could be from the Mayan word chocol (meaning "hot") or Nahuatl xococ (meaning bitter, sometimes spelled xocolli) or Nahuatl chicolli (a cooking utensil), or Nahuatl chicol (meaning "beaten"), or many, many other candidates. Due to the complexity and obscurity of language, we will never know for sure.
We salute to greet people, and when we greet people, we often wish them good health. A similar logic influenced the etymology of salute, which came from the Latin welcoming salutare, itself from the root salus, meaning "good health", which is what ancient Romans would wish each other. Salus is from the Proto-Indo-European reconstruction solh, which meant "whole", whole being a still-used metaphor for "healthy". Now, the best part about salute is all of its linguistic relatives. The opening line I use in all my YouTube videos, for instance, is salutations, which also derives from salutare. The Spanish word for "health", salud, also comes from salutare, and French salut comes from salus. And, if we're willing to philologize as far back as the PIE root, salvation and safety are also connected. Pretty cool, right?
Most people have never stopped to consider where the word jester comes from. It's obviously a formation from the verb jest, meaning "to joke", but here it gets interesting. In Old English, though still spelled jest, the word meant "cannibalize"! This is because of an ancient folk tale about a jester who went crazy and ate the entire king's court (a story thought to be based off actual events in 900s Denmark), and so the word got metonymically applied. This has clear Germanic origins: jest comes from Old Norse jessir, which meant "obey", because one must obey Death (also, incidentally, the etymon of the affirmative yessir, a confirmation of obedience, itself the root of yes and sir). Finally, jessir is from Proto-Indo-European jehk, which vaguely meant "follow", so not that much of a stretch there. Fascinating as that is, jester has a hidden relative from those cannibalistic times! That Old English word, jest, underwent a lot of transformations. Since it was a story about a king's court, the word also got applied to the royal family as jestalty. In Middle English, this underwent the variations of restalty and roystalty until finally settling in Modern English as the word royalty. The fool and the king are distantly related through a cannibalistic origin. This is so believable!
The word jiffy has held many different meanings throughout history. Most people don't even realize that it's a unit of measurement, and use it interchangeably as moment; however, it does have scientific meaning as well. Nowadays, it's referred to by computer animators as the time it takes to go from one frame to another, or 0.1 seconds conventionally. Prior to that, it was used by engineers to denote the time between electrical alternating currents, which could either be 0.0167 or 0.02 seconds. It's also been used to refer to much smaller times, such as the time for light to travel one centimeter (0.0000000000334 seconds) or the time for light to travel one Planck length (it has 43 zeroes in front of it). But before these "official" defined usages, "jiffy" has been used colloquially for a while. It was first attested in 1785 and in early days was thought to be the time for a lightning strike to occur, possibly having came from a code word used by eighteenth-century hustlers to mean "lightening".
In the late 1300s, English speakers adopted the word vulture to describe that large necrovorous bird we so often erroneously associate with buzzards. This, through Anglo-French vultur, Old French voitoir, and Latin vultur, eventually can be traced back to the Latin verb vellere, meaning "to pluck" or tear". It's pretty obvious how this transition occurred: the flesh-tearing bird eventually got metonymically named after the action of tearing. This has two possible proposed Proto-Indo-European predecessors: that it's from hwelh, meaning "wool", because you can pluck wool, or that it's from wel, meaning "to pull", because tearing and pulling are basically the same things. Either way, vulture has an interesting cousin if you're willing to follow me back to vellere for a moment. This later evolved into the Italian word svelto, meaning "lengthened", because things that are pulled out are lengthened, which would later mean "slender", because lengthened people are slender. Through French, this gave us the word svelte that we use in absolutely no relation to vulture today.
Most people know that the word flu is a truncation of the more scientific term influenza, but only a few know about the origin after that. Arguably through Spanish, it comes from the Italian word influenza, which comes from the Italian word influentia. This had a distinguishably different definition, one which you may have figured out already: "influence" (except this is particularly in a supernatural sense; the broader influence that we know today evolved in the late 1500s from that word). This is because early people with flu were thought to be under the influence of the stars, so there you go: they had ill omens from above. This is from the verb influere, which meant "flow" or "stream", because the stars were supposed to be emanating a flow of influence. Eliminate the prefix -in and we have the verb fluere, with basically the same meaning (and the origin of fluent, through Latin fluentum, "relaxed"). Finally, this is from Proto-Indo-European bhel, meaning "to swell", making it the distant cousin of other words like follicle, bollocks, ballot, boil, beluga, and hundreds of other words. Anyway, I'm writing this blog post under the influence of the flu, which makes it all the more relevant and whimsical.
The Python programming language was named after the British comedy series Monty Python's Flying Circus because the creator, Guido Van Rossum, was a fan and wanted his language to be short and unique, like that of the TV series. So how did the cast of Monty Python decide on their name? It was a completely arbitrary string of random words meant to be funny, and that's that. But, yes, Python was inspired by the deadly snake. This serpent, in turn, was named after the mythical scourge of Apollo's temple at Delphi in Greek mythology, and that almost definitely gets its name from the old name for the island of Delphi, Pytho. Further analysis suggests that the island name originates from the Greek root pythein, meaning "rot", from Proto-Indo-European dheub, meaning "hollow". So, here we have a language named after a comedy named after.a snake named after a monster named after an island, which has intriguing origins of its own. Etymology is awesome!
Spring has sprung, and Easter is right around the corner. So what does the word Easter mean, and does it have any relation to the cardinal direction east? Let's find out. Easter was a pagan holiday (which would later be reappropriated to Christianity, just like Christmas was from Saturnalia) that was meant to celebrate Eostre, a Germanic goddess of rebirth, spring, and fertility. Her name comes from the Proto-Germanic root aust, meaning "sunrise" (something to do with both rebirths and fertility, in a way). This in turn probably hails from the Proto-Indo-European root aus, meaning "to shine", because the sun shines. Makes sense, but let's swing back to aust for a second. It had a second meaning of "east", because the sunrise occurs in the east, and, through Old English eastan, is the etymon of our word east. So not only is the Easter Bunny pagan and fertile, but it's the opposite of the Wester Bunny, in a serious, etymological sense.
Scurvy, that disease brought about by a lack of Vitamin C, has pretty milky origins. Originally spelled scurfy, it used to be an adjective meaning "covered in scabs". The meaning narrowed because of exposure to a Dutch cognate which actually meant the disease, and the definition was extended because people with scurvy develop scabs and similar symptoms. Though it is somewhat uncertain, it is likely that scurfy comes from the Old Norse term skyrbjugr, which literally meant "sour milk swelling", of the elements skyr, "sour milk", and bjugr, "swelling". The correlation here is because of how scurvy sufferers' stomachs could swell after swallowing sour milk. That's one theory, however. Other possibilities include the Middle Low German schoren, which meant "to lacerate", because of lacerations in the stomach caused by scurvy. So, yeah, a lot of stomach stuff associated with scurvy.
Adam Aleksic, a leading contender for valedictorian of his high school, is a 207-month-old boy with disturbing interests in etymology, vexillology, geography, and law. Adam would like to one day visit Tajikistan and totally just fractured his tibial plateau.
The Etymology Nerd