Nobody's exactly sure how long jalapeño peppers have been cultivated, but it's probably been around for thousands of years, with confirmed cultivation dating back to the time of the Aztecs. Surprisingly, the food wasn't brought to the United States until the 1940s, but since its introduction, usage of the word has been increasing fairly linearly. The name literally means "from the region of Xalapa" (which is sometimes spelled with a J), because there was a lot of farming of the pepper in that area. Xalapa is Nahuatl for "sand by the water", and that word is composed out of xalli, meaning "sand", atl, meaning "water", and -pan, meaning "place". Beyond that, we can't reconstruct anything due to a lack of written records, but the terms probably come an Uto-Aztecan proto-language.
The word island was kind of a mess throughout history. The first dated attestation of it was back in the year 888, when it was spelled iland. Since then, it was also written as igland, ealond, yllonde, ylande, iegland, illond, yslelond, yle londe, and ilond. Before the muddled days of Middle and Old English, it's reconstructed to Proto-Germanic awjolanda, which could mean "meadow" in addition to "island" and traces to a combination of Proto-Indo-European hekeh, meaning "water", and lend, "land". You'll notice that none of those root words and most of the spellings I listed earlier don't have an s in them, but the modern term does. That's because of confusion with the word isle, which is an entirely unrelated word coming from the Latin word insula (you can see the conflation in yselond from before), which is pretty neat.
Today, zany is mainly an adjective meaning "bizarre" or "goofy", and that meaning was first attested in the 1610s, but for more than three decades before that it was a noun referring to a type of masked clown in old comedies that mimicked the actions of another. That, through Middle French zani, is a borrowing from Italian Zanni, which was a dialectal nickname for Giovanni, who apparently was a recurring character in many of the comedies. The proper noun Giovanni comes from Latin Iohannes, which comes from Ancient Greek Ioannes, which ultimately derives from the Hebrew word Yohanan, which translates to "God is gracious". As I've explained in a previous post, this origin makes the word zany related to names as diverse as Janice, Evan, Juan, Nina, Ivan, Hank, and Jonas, which is really cool.
The word evangelist was borrowed into English in the twelfth century CE, when it was spelled euangelist, ewangeliste, wangaliste, and evangaliste until evangelist became widely used in the eighteenth century. Before that, the word was spelled the same and had the same definition in Old French, and before that it showed up in Latin as evangelista. That in turn came from Ancient Greek euangelistes, which meant "bringer of good news" because it was composed out of the prefix eu-, meaning "good", and the verb angellein, meaning "to announce". Eu derives from Proto-Indo-European hsu, also "good", and angellein comes from angelos, which meant "messenger" and is the etymon of angel (with an uncertain origin, but there are cognates that suggest a possibly Semitic source).
The word coriander was spelled coriandre in Middle French, and that, through Old French, comes from Latin coriandrum, which had the same meaning. That in turn derives from Ancient Greek koriannon, which some think is related to another word, koris, which meant "bedbug" and might be connected because the fruit of the plant smells bad when not ripe. It could also be non-Indo-European, and etymologists aren't really sure. Although coriander may refer to the entire herb, in the United States it generally is associated with the dried seeds, while cilantro encompasses the plants and stems. That word was borrowed in 1907 from Spanish culantro, which traces to coriandrum, which should look familiar. Usage of both the words cilantro and coriander shot up since the 1960s and peaked around the turn of the century.
Today I met a person from central Pennsylvania who uses the word macadam instead of asphalt, and that term fascinated me since I never heard it before, so I decided to do some research. Apparently that's a thing throughout Appalachia and parts of Ohio (although many other places use it to specifically refer to a type of gravel), and it was first used in 1824. The word is named after a Scottish engineer called John McAdam, who invented a technique of layering small crushed stones that constitutes the road type. In 1902, that process was refined by adding tar, so the word tarmacadam was created, and that eventually became our word tarmac. Macadamization is also a word tracing back to the nineteenth century. Tarmac has been consistently increasing in usage, but the other two peaked around the 1910s.
The word lady was spelled leuedi, leafdi, ladye, lafdi, laddy, ladi, lafuedi, læuedi, and lavdi throughout Middle English until the modern spelling became popularized in the middle of the eighteenth century. You'll notice that some of those have a f or v labiodental fricative; this disappeared in the fourteenth century but hints at the word's origin, from Old English hlæfdige, which also lost the h at the beginning and the g towards the end. Hlæfdige still meant "lady", but the more literal definition was "bread-kneader" (as contrasted to lord coming from hlafweard, meaning "bread guardian"), composed of hlaf, meaning "bread", and dige, "kneader". Hlaf, the etymon of loaf, came from Proto-Germanic hlaibaz, which had the same meaning, and dige traces to Proto-Indo-European dheigh, "to build"
Today, a peanut gallery is a group of people who give unwanted comments, criticisms, or advice. This is sort of a figurative take on the phrase, but when it was first coined in 1874, a peanut gallery was a very literal part of vaudeville theatres, referring to the cheapest seats in the back or balcony. These got associated with peanuts because they were the least expensive snack sold at the theatre, because they were most sold in that section, and because hecklers would sometimes throw peanuts from there to express displeasure at a performance. Some people think there may be racial undertones to the phrase, as those sections were often reserved for segregated African Americans and the negative connotation around the people who sit there is prejudicial. The phrase was popularized, made less offensive, and associated with children when the TV show Howdy Doody began to use it to refer to its live audience of kids.
The phrase no can do secretly has racist origins. It was first written down in the late nineteenth century to parody the English pidgin that Chinese immigrants to the United States used. They actually used phrases similar to that because of syntactical differences, but this was used in a derogatory manner by white people for a while before it became mainstream. The same thing happened with some other phrases such as long time no see, which first showed up in imitation of Native American speech in an 1894 edition of the Boston Globe, and chop-chop (meaning "quickly"), which emerged around the same time period when American sailors borrowed the term from Cantonese sailors. That comes from the Cantonese word cuk cuk, which is from Mandarin kwai kwai, also meaning "quick, quick".
There is a 1953 animated Bugs Bunny cartoon where the titular protagonist exclaims "just a cotton-pickin' minute, this don't look like the Coachella Valley to me!" That's the first time the term cotton-picking was used in its modern context (as basically a synonym of damn), and it was soon picked by some speakers in the American south to just be a general expression of disapproval. However, cotton-picking very likely has racist undertones, as it is thought to trace back to the noun cotton-picker, which was first recorded in 1919 and meant "a contemptible person" - obviously a blatant slur against African American sharecroppers. In modern times, there's been a lot of controversy over the word, with former Canadian Liberal Party leader Michael Ignatieff, sportscaster Brian Davis, and others coming under fire for using it in the last decade. Thankfully, Google NGrams and Trends both show usage going down significantly, so maybe that linguistic chapter is behind us.
The word sausage was borrowed from Old North French saussiche in the mid-fifteenth century. Since then, it peaked in usage during the world wars and the 1980s, with various historical spellings such as sawsyge, sawsege, sossage, saucege, soulsage, sawsage, and saltsage. That last one is perhaps the most appropriate, because the word traces to Vulgar Latin salsica, which translates to "seasoned with salt". The reason for that is that early sausage making was a food preservation technique, wherein meat was salted and put in tubular casings. Salsica is from Latin salsus, meaning "salted", which is from Old Latin sallere, meaning "to salt", which is from the reconstructed Proto-Indo-European root selh, referring to the noun "salt". That forms parts of words like salad, salary, silt, sauce, and more.
I own a German knockoff of the board game Parcheesi that's called Pacheesi, and all my friends used to have a laugh at the blatant mimicry. However, it turns out that one was not copying the other; both names trace to the Indian board game Pachisi, where you have to work your way around a cross by throwing cowry shells (the games Ludo, Sorry, and Trouble all are descendants of this). After the game was popularized in the US in the late nineteenth century, the r was added to Parcheesi in 1892 because of trademark purposes. In Hindi, Pachisi means "twenty-five", which was the highest possible score you could get with the shells. That comes from Sanskrit panca, meaning "five" (from Proto-Indo-European penkwe, also "five"), and vinsanti, meaning "twenty" (probably similar derivation but we're not sure).
Ten-codes are signals used by radio operators and police officers to convey information using the number ten and then another number following it (hence the name). For example, 10-18 was assigned to mean "urgent", and 10-42 meant an officer was going off duty. Some of these phrases seeped into pop culture over time, especially due to cop shows' increasing popularity. What's your twenty to mean "where are you" emerged due to 10-20 being the code asking for location, and 10-4 is commonly used to mean "affirmative" or "roger", which is the same in the ten-codes (this is sometimes suffixed by good buddy, which was common slang among ham radio enthusiasts). All forms of those phrases peaked in usage sometime between the sixties and the eighties, but they're definitely around and kicking.
Disposable drinking cups actually have a fascinating history. Up until 1907, people just shared cups at communal drinking spaces, but then people found out that was unhealthy, so there was a massive demand for cheap paper cups. This led to the development of the Health Kup by the American Water Supply Company of New England. Soon, the business expanded, and they landed a sponsorship with the New York-based Dixie Doll Company, renaming themselves the Dixie Cup Corporation after the toys in 1919 - that should sound familiar. Just over a decade later, a Dixie Cup employee left the company to form a rival startup named the Paper Container Manufacturing Company, which started creating plastic versions in the 1970s. These were named Solo cups to evoke their disposability (the company was renamed after them once they became popular), and that should be another recognizable name.
The word gauze was first used in the English language in a 1561 inventory of the Royal Wardrobe, when it was spelled gais. After a two hundred year period of it being written as either gadze or gawze, gauze became the standard, and usage peaked during World War I (and then again a little bit during World War II). The term comes from French gaze, which has an uncertain etymology. One theory is that it comes from Arabic qazz, meaning "silk" and coming from Persian and Middle Persian kaz, with the same definition. That in turn might be from Arabic qazza, meaning "cotton-seed". Another possibility is that gauze was named after the Israeli/Palestinian city of Gaza, which was traditionally associated with silk production. That would make the word come from Hebrew az, meaning "strength".
The modern type of grenade as we know it wasn't invented until 1914, but the word could refer to various kinds of explosive shells as early as 1590. Before that, it gets wild: the word meant "pomegranate", and the definition was extended because of a perceived physical resemblance. In Middle French, it was spelled granate, and in Old French, it was stylized pomme granate, which literally translates to "apple having grains", again due to a shared appearance. Pomme granate in turn is from Latin pomum granatum, composed of pome, "apple", and granum, meaning "grain". Pome was named after Pomona, the Roman goddess of fruits, and granum comes from Proto-Indo-European grhnos, which also meant "grain". Usages of both the words grenade and pomegranate have been generally increasing since the twentieth century.
Five thousand years ago, Proto-Indo-European speakers on the Pontic-Caspian steppe used the word brahter to mean "brother". Obviously this went on to evolve into words like English brother and Latin frater, but far more interesting was the term's development into Sanskrit, where it was spelled bhrata and meant the same thing. That further morphed into Romani phral or pral, which was brought into Europe by the migrating Roma around the thirteenth century CE. By 1770, the word was being used in English to refer to accomplices in crime (perhaps due to mistrust of the Roma), but by the middle of the nineteenth century, it lost all consonant clusters and took on a definition of "compatriot" or "friend" - the word pal as we know it today! The verb form was first attested in 1879.
In 1908, a snack manufacturing company named Sunshine Biscuits released a crème-filled sandwich cookie called the Hydrox, to decent reception. Four years later, Nabisco came out with their own version of the treat, which they called the Oreo Biscuit. Originally, this had lackluster sales, but it soon took off and reached such immense popularity that people mistook Hydrox for being an off-brand version of Oreo and it died out. In 1921, Nabisco renamed their product to Oreo Sandwich, and they struck again in 1948 with Oreo Creme Sandwich and 1974 with Oreo Chocolate Sandwich Cookie, which is the full name that exists today (although people obviously shorten it to just Oreo, which is evident if you look at the exponential increase of usage of the word since the 1960s). As for the name itself, Nabisco never provided an official etymology but there's a theory that the snack could be named for the oreodaphne genus of the laurel family - a lot of other Nabisco products are also named after plant - or that it was just made to be short and easy to pronounce.
The word hermaphrodite was first borrowed into the English language at the end of the fourteenth century from Latin hermaphroditus, which in turn comes from Ancient Greek hermaphroditos, with the same meaning. That used to be a proper noun, through, specifically describing the mythological child of Hermes and Aphrodite (hence the name) who got blended with a naiad named Salmacis to create a single person with both male and female sex characteristics. Hermes has an unknown etymology which is thought to be possibly non-Indo-European, and Aphrodite could be from the Phonecian word Ashtaroth, which would further be from Aramaic Ishtar and eventually Proto-Semitic and Proto-Afro-Asiatic. Usage of the word hermaphrodite has been relatively constant since the beginning of the twentieth century.
Scaphism was a rather horrible torture/execution method thought to be used by the Ancient Persians, wherein a person was tied between two boats, slathered in honey, set to sail, and left to be eaten by bugs and rats (although it's possible this was made up by the Greeks to make the Persians look bad). The root of the word is Ancient Greek skaphe, which meant "boat"; -ism denoted a state and came from Proto-Indo-European mos. Skaphe literally meant "thing cut out" and, through Proto-Hellenic, derived from PIE skep, meaning "cut". That's also the root of the term scaphoid, which describes the carpal bones in the wrist and apparently got its name because they look boat-shaped, and the word bathyscape, which is a type of deep-sea submarine (bathys meaning "deep" in Ancient Greek).
Despite Arthurian legend being set in the fifth and sixth centuries, the first use of the name Excalibur in English was in the 1300s, when it was spelled Excalaber. Before that, the Old French words Escalibor and Escaliborc were the standard, and they just added an es sound to the beginnings of the words Calliborc and Calibourne for no reason. Those are from Medieval Latin Caliburnus (which is still only from the twelfth century), which finally derives from Old Welsh Caledfwlch. That, in turn, is composed of the roots caled, meaning "hard", and bwlch, meaning "crack" (the development of calib was due to influence by a Latin word for "steelwork"). Caled traces to Proto-Indo-European kel, meaning "hard", and bwlch is also PIE through Proto-Celtic. Excalibur is also etymologically related to a legendary Irish sword named Caladbolg, which literally translates to "hard belly"
The word impeach as a verb has been around for a good 130 years prior to its initial appearance as a noun. It was borrowed from Anglo-French empecher, and originally meant "to hinder" or "prevent". Through manifold variations such as enpeche, enpesshe, empeach, impesche, and eventually impeach, it acquired its modern definition in the sixteenth century, peaking in usage in the 1660s, although Google Trends shows a marked increases in searches since the 2016 presidential election. Empecher derives from Old French empeechier, and that's from Latin impedicare, "to entangle" or "fetter". Impedicare is composed of the prefix in-, which meant "into", and pedica, which meant "shackles" and, through Proto-Italic, eventually derives from the Proto-Indo-European word ped, meaning "foot". So the word went from feet to shackles to entanglement to hindrance to political removal: a fascinating transition!
When the word auburn was first brought into the English language circa 1430, it meant "white" or "yellow-white". Back then, there were a ton of different accepted spellings, including aburne, abourne, aborne, abron, and abrun. That last one is really important, because brun was the Middle English word for brown and people kept confusing the two. This resulted in the definition shifting over time to today's meaning of "reddish-brown", which is really cool! The original "white" meaning becomes more obvious as we move back through Old French auborne and Medieval Latin alburnus ("off-white") to the Latin word albus, which just meant "white" (you may recognize the name from Harry Potter; J.K. Rowling intentionally chose it for that definition). Finally, through Proto-Italic, the term eventually derives from PIE helbos, also "white".
When the word gonorrhea was first used in the English language toward the end of the fifteenth century, it had the specific medical definition of "involuntary discharge of semen". Later on, that term got applied to a disease characterized by a whitish discharge which was actually mucoid, but was mistaken for ejaculate. That disease was gonorrhea as we know it today, and at various times it was written gomorra, gomorrea, gonorrhey, gonorrhæa, gonorrhœa, and many other ways. The word, through Late Latin, derives from the Greek word gonos, meaning "seed" (also the root of gonad; from Proto-Indo-European genh, "beget") and rhein, meaning "to flow" (deriving from Proto-Indo-European srew, also "flow"). So, together, gonorrhea can be translated to "flowing seed". That's pretty interesting.
I recently leaned the rather fascinating fact that 97% of all Wikipedia pages lead to "philosophy" if you click the first link that shows up enough times. There are many theories as to why this pattern exists, but at least one explanation is that philosophy is the most wide-ranging field, the "mother of all sciences". This is sort of reflected in the word's etymology: through Old French filosofie and Latin, it comes from the Ancient Greek word philosophia, which meant "loving wisdom". The roots there are philos, or "beloved" (which is from philein, meaning "to love", and eventually has an unknown origin), and sophos, which meant "wisdom" (and eventually derives from the Proto-Indo-European reconstruction sehp, "to try", but that's contested). Usage of the word philosophy has decreased since the early 1960s.
Adam Aleksic, a freshman studying linguistics at Harvard University, has been described as the internet's sixth most famous etymologist. He has disturbing interests in words, vexillology, geography, board games, limericks, and law, and he loves writing about himself in the third person.
The Etymology Nerd