The word bursar, which refers to the treasurer of a university, was introduced in the late sixteenth century as burser. It was occasionally spelled bursor or bourser, but bursar became the standard in the late eighteenth century and usage has remained constant since. The term comes from Latin bursa, which meant "purse" and is also the root of our English words purse, bourse (a type of stock exchange), and bursitis (a type of joint inflammation; the connection is that it makes giant purse-like stacks swell up). That comes from an Ancient Greek sounding the same and meaning "hide", because that's what early purses were made of. One interesting note I have is that Google search frequency of the word bursar spikes every August and January - when people pay for college enrollment, I suppose.
The word rendezvous was first used in 1556, when it was spelled ranndevouse. Other orthographic variations since then have included rende vow, rendeuous, randevous, rende vous, rendevowes, rendevous, randivouze, and rendevou; the modern form was standardized in the mid-seventeeth century. The term was borrowed from the Middle French phrase rendez vous, which meant "present yourselves". The first word there, rendez, is a conjugation of an Old French word that could also mean "yield" and is the etymon of render, rendition, and surrender. It comes from Latin reddere, meaning "to give back", and that in turn may eventually be traced to Proto-Indo-European roots meaning "to turn" and "to give". Vous, through Latin vos, derives from Proto-Indo-European wos, also "you".
The phrase out of wedlock refers to someone who was born to unmarried parents, but what is wedlock? The term simply means "marriage", but is so archaic that many people now think that it refers to when women get pregnant outside of marriage, due to association with the much more frequent phrase. In Middle English, the word was spelled wedlok or wedlocke and traces to Old English wedlac, still with the same definition. This has nothing to do with locks (it was folk etymologized); it's composed of the word wed that we know and the suffix -lac, a noun denoting actions that traces to the Proto-Indo-European reconstruction leyg, meaning "bounce". Wed, through Proto-Germanic wadja, ultimately derives from a Proto-Indo-European word for "bind", with a similar pronunciation.
The word bastard was borrowed at some point during the mid-fourteenth century from Old French, when it had the very specific meaning of "recognized illegitimate child of a nobleman". Later on, it referred to any kid born out of wedlock, and that eventually took on a pejorative sense, giving us the even more frequently used definitions of "terrible person" or "mongrel". Interestingly, a weakened connotation of "male friend" also emerged in the twentieth century, to be used in phrases such as lucky bastard and poor bastard. The Old French noun most likely originated from the phrase fils de bast, which meant "packsaddle son" (a "packsaddle" being a kind of traveling bed that bastards were thought to be conceived on), and the suffix -ard. Bast might trace to a Latin word meaning "carry".
In her new book Because Internet, linguist Gretchen McCulloch gives a very interesting explanation of how the hashtag (#) came to be. The symbol emerged as a shorthand scribble for the Latin abbreviation lb, standing for libra pondo, or "pound by weight". These pound signs became associated with numbers, and were later added to early Bell push-button telephones as symbols to complete certain functions over calls. In the late twentieth century, that same sign was used in internet chatrooms to filter images and other content, and shortly after Twitter came out, user @chrismessina called for using the pound sign to group things on the platform. The site didn't comply immediately, but users really liked the idea, so they kept using the symbols until they caved. Hashtags were then picked up by other sites like Pinterest and Instagram, and are now so prevalent that people use the word in real-life conversation.
To me, the word kiosk implies a small booth, along the lines of one-window newsstands, information centers, or small touchscreen stations. That's the implication in most Anglophone countries (except in Australia, where the term refers to take-out places), but many other places use the original definition of "open pavilion" that could refer to much larger structures; the connection was a perceived resemblance in shape. Kiosk was borrowed in the early sixteen hundreds from French kiosque, and the concept in turn was taken from the Ottomans, who called it koshk. That traces to Persian kushk, which meant "palace" and has an unknown origin. Thanks to the adoption of the modern definition, usage of the word kiosk in literature skyrocketed during the 1980s.
After a friend used the word galvanize earlier today to mean "urge into action", I had a realization that I was able to make thanks to my AP Chem days. The verb can also mean "coat a metal using electricity", and the newer definition emerged because of the notion of something being sparked into movement. We got the word at the start of the nineteenth century from the French noun galvanisme, which was named after Luigi Galvani, an Italian polymath who (along with his wife Lucia) did the first research into bioelectricity. He wanted to call it animal electricity, but it was named after the pair on the suggestion of Alessandro Volta, the scientist whom volts are named after. Interestingly, the surname Galvani comes from the first name Gavin, which may trace to a Celtic word meaning "hawk".
The word parchment was first recorded in the early fourteenth-century romantic epic Beves of Hamtoun, when it was spelled parchemin. Other alternations throughout the ages included parchmen, parchemyne, parchmine, parchemet, parchement, and parchemyn until parchment was standardized during the fifteenth century. The word is not related to parch nor the noun-forming suffix -ment (although the t got added through folk etymological confusion with the latter); through Old French, it actually traces to the Latin word pergamena and the Ancient Greek term Pergamon, which described a city in western Anatolia where the papyrus substitute material is thought to have been invented. That's supposedly named after Pergamus, a mythological warrior who founded the city.
The word nightingale has been around for a while and is in no way related to gale. In Middle English, it was spelled nightingal, nyghtyngale, nyghtgale, nightegale, nittingale, and several other variations using the yogh as a stand-in for the voiceless velar fricative sound. The central n slowly crept in over time, but wasn't originally there. This is all from Old English nihtegale, which literally meant "night-singer" (a reference to the noises the males of the species make, which in fact occur during both night and day). The nihte part is where night comes from: it traces to the Proto-Germanic root nahts, which is from Proto-Indo-European nokts. Gale, meanwhile, was a conjugation of the Old English word galon, meaning "to sing". That is thought to be from Proto-Indo-European ghel, "to yell".
The word pecuniary ("of or pertaining to money") was borrowed in 1506 from the Latin word pecunia, which meant "money". That's from the earlier word pecus, or "cattle"; the connection is that livestock was a measurement of wealth in Ancient Rome. Pecus traces to the Proto-Indo-European root peku, which had the same definition. Coincidentally, that same word was also borrowed into Proto-Germanic as fehu (because of Grimm's Law, which made voiceless stops become voiceless fricatives, the p became an f and the k became an h). That turned into Old English feoh, which also meant "wealth in livestock", and by way of a little confusion with the Old French word fief ("possession"), it in turn mutated into fee, the word we use to describe monetary transactions today.
The word hippocampus was borrowed in the seventeenth century from Late Latin, when it referred to a type of mythological creature that was part horse and part dolphin, best known for pulling Poseidon's/Neptune's chariot. This was similar to the capricorn and also appeared in Etruscan and Pictish folklore. Later on, this term got adopted for the part of your brain that deals with memory and learning due to a perceived visual resemblance between the creature and the cerebral structure. The Latin word comes from Greek hippokampos, which is from the words hippos, meaning "horse" and kampos, meaning "monster". Hippos, also the root in hippodrome and the name Phillip, comes from Proto-Indo-European hekus, meaning "swift", and kampos might come from a word that meant "caterpillar".
The word galosh today refers to a type of rubber overshoe, but when the term was first used in 1374, it referred to a type of wood-soled leather clog. Back then, it was spelled kaloge, and sometimes took the forms galoche, galache, galege, galage, galoss, galoach, goloschoo, goloshoe, and colloshoe; of course, galosh prevailed. That comes from Old French galoche, which has an uncertain origin. The most widely accepted theory is that it derives from the Latin phrase gallicula solea, meaning "Gallic shoe" , but there are plausible contentions that it may trace to Old French gallette, meaning "flat round cake", or to Ancient Greek kalopodion, the term for a shoemaker's mold of a foot. That last one would trace to the words for "wood" (kalon) and "foot" (pous).
The phrase Rust Belt referred to the American industrial heartland far before its machines started actually rusting, first being used in 1869. Use back then was pretty scarce, however, and the term only got popular because of 1984 presidential candidate, who said in a speech that "Reagan's policies are turning our industrial Midwest into a rust bowl". Then the media adopted the toponym, tweaking it slightly to follow the model of the 1969 coinage Sun Belt (which referred to the southern US). Eventually, Frost Belt was created as an opposite of Sun Belt, Bible Belt and Wheat Belt were based off the other pre-existing terms, and that part of America that has a lot of Mormons was nicknamed the Jell-O Belt because the foodstuff is apparently popular in the area.
When I recently watched the movie The Hateful Eight, it struck me as odd that there is a rest stop named Minnie's Haberdashery. Apart from being a word I didn't know, a haberdashery is a place that sells the goods of a haberdasher, or someone who sells small items. When this word was originally used in the 1300s, it implied the peddling of hats and purses particularly. The term was originally thought to be Norse, but because etymologists couldn't find connections to any of the Scandinavian languages, the going theory is that haberdasher comes from the Anglo-Norman word habertas, meaning "small goods"; that in turn is of unknown origin. Haberdash also became a verb for a brief time in the seventeenth century as a back-formation of haberdasher, and all forms of the word have been declining in usage over time.
Throughout the centuries, the word pedigree (meaning "genealogical chart") went through a lot of different changes: past forms include pedegre, peedegrue, pedegree, pedegrw, pedygru, petygru, pedegru, pedigrew, peedegre, and petit degree. All of those spellings were folk etymologized to look like that; at its earliest point in 1425, the word was pe-de-grew, which reflects its origin from the Anglo-Norman phrase pe de grue, meaning "foot of a crane" (the connection being a perceived visual similarity between avian claws and the genetic tree) and the earlier Old French term pied de gru. Pied comes from the Latin word for foot, pes, and that traces to Proto-Indo-European ped, also "foot"; and gru is from Latin grus ("crane") and Proto-Indo-European gerh, which could mean "to cry hoarsely".
I was outraged when I discovered that the words rage and outrage are not etymologically connected. Rage was borrowed into English in the thirteenth century from Old French raige; that goes back to Latin rabies, which meant "madness" (and, yes, is the root of the English word rabies), and ultimately traces to Proto-Indo-European kebh, "violent". Outrage is also a French loanword from the the thirteenth century, but in this case it derives from the word oultrage, which meant "excess" (the idea being that when something becomes excessive, it is outrageous), and that's from Vulgar Latin ultraticum, meaning "going beyond". The root there is the recognizable Latin word ultra, which hails from PIE al, still meaning "beyond". Because of pronunciation, oultrage was rebracketed as outrage and that's how we got the modern word.
I was always taught by my teachers to never run in the corridors, but little did they know that they were etymologically incorrect. The word was borrowed in 1591 from French, and that was taken in the fifteenth century from Italian corridore, which primarily referred to a long passageway between separate buildings but more literally meant "runner", just like how in English we sometimes use the word runner to describe long things like vines and carpets. Corridore comes from the Latin verb correre, which meant "to run". That, through the Proto-Italic reconstruction korzo, traces to the Proto-Indo-European root kers, also "to run". This means that corridor is related to words like cargo, caricature, chariot, currency, discharge, excursion, intercourse, miscarry, precursor, and many other words that kers forms all or part of.
Halcyon is a rather nice adjective used to refer to the idyllic golden days of yore, but many people do not know that the word also denotes a genus of kingfishers. Both of these definitions are connected: they trace to Latin alcyon, which described the bird. In Roman mythology, the alcyonei dies (or "halcyon days") comprised a two-week period around the winter solstice when a fictional kingfisher-like bird was supposed to hatch its offspring, causing the seas to be calm and navigable (hence the connection). Alcyon comes from the Ancient Greek word alkyon, which has an unknown origin but is thought to ultimately be from a non-Indo-European pre-Greek language. Since it was borrowed into English in the 1540s, the word halcyon has had relatively constant use in literature over time, peaking in 1810.
Apparently private dick or just dick are slang terms to refer to detectives, which is rather odd if you think about it. The usage was first recorded in a 1905 dictionary of slang, but was probably in use in casual speech for several decades before that. The origin is uncertain, but there are two main theories. It’s possible that it could come from a nineteenth-century criminal slang word meaning “to watch”. That would be unrelated to the other definitions of the term, eventually tracing to a Romany word spelled “dik” and meaning “to see", according to the Random House Historical Dictionary of American Slang. However, the Oxford English Dictionary thinks it’s just a playful shortening of the word “detective” (just remove a t and the -tive part) modelled after the nickname for “Richard”. The latter seems to be more widely accepted, but there’s no definitive proof supporting either.
The word browser was first used in 1845 to refer to animals that feed on high-growing plants, drawing on a now-rare definition of the the verb browse - "to eat buds and leaves". By the 1860s, the noun was metaphorically extended to people looking for goods, and the computer definition is from 1982, on the basis that when you're using it you're browsing for information. The verb browse comes from the Old French verb broster, which meant "to sprout". That's from Proto-Germanic brustiz, meaning "shoot" or "bud", and ultimately derives from Proto-Indo-European brews, "to swell". That same root yielded the words "brisket" (through Old Norse brjosk, "cartilage") and "breast" (through Old English breost), because both involved swelling, apparently. Browse has steadily been increasing in literary usage over time, but browser rapidly overtook it in the 1990s, peaking in use in the year 2000.
The word greyhound has been around since Old English, albeit with a variety of spellings. At different times, it took the forms grighund, greihund, greahund, grehound, grihond, and grayhound until greyhound took over in the sixteenth century. You may have noticed that the first element of the word didn't really look like the word grey originally; in fact, grey has nothing to do with it. The term was folk etymologized by people who concluded that, because the canines were often grey in color, that had to be the correct spelling. Actually, the word traces to Old Norse grøy, meaning "bitch" (unknown origin), and hund, which was Old English for "hound" (and, through Proto-Germanic hundaz, traces to the Proto-Indo-European root kwo, meaning "dog"). The Greyhound transportation corporation was so named because its founder saw a reflection of a bus in a store window, thought it looked like a greyhound dog, and decided to name his company after that.
Today, a constable is just a word for "police officer" in small towns and England, but back in the Middle Ages the term (also spelled cunstable, constabil, connestable, and cunestable) referred to the main officer of a lord's household. Before that, as French conestable, it was a specific title given to the commander of the Frankish king's armed forces. That comes from Medieval Latin conestabulus, which meant "officer of the stables" because, at its earliest points, the role involved managing the horses of a monarch or lord. The term is composed of Latin comes, meaning "count" (and from the word cum, "together"), and stabulum, which meant "stable" and is the source of our modern-day word for the buildings (this traces to a Proto-Indo-European root that's reconstructed as steh and meant "to stand"). That's a pretty interesting history!
John Dennis was a 17th-century English literary critic whose real passion was in writing plays, but he wasn't great at them. One of those plays was Appius and Virginia, a tragedy that required a thunder sound for a rainstorm scene, so Dennis created an instrument for the sound effect out of a bowl and metal balls. The play did terribly and was cancelled after only a few showings, but the theatre manager kept using Dennis' sound technique for a subsequent production of Macbeth. Accounts of the moment vary, but apparently Dennis noticed during a showing that the sound effect was familiar, so he got up and started screaming about how the theatre had "stolen his thunder". After the word got around by help of the local paper, to steal one's thunder entered popular parlance - and that's how we got that phrase!
I always think of the word concubine in historical terms. To me, it brings to mind emperors' harems, but apparently it can also refer to a partner in any sexual relationship where the couple is unmarried. This was the sole definition when the term was borrowed into English in the late thirteenth century from Anglo-Norman, but it has since evolved. That comes from the Latin verb concumbere, which meant "to lie with" and was composed of con-, meaning "with", and cubare, meaning "to lie down". Con-, through Proto-Italic and the earlier Latin word cum, derives from the Proto-Indo-European root kom, which could also mean "next to". Cubare (also the etymon of English cubicle and cubit) traces to a Proto-Indo-European word sounding like kewb or kub, but definition is uncertain.
The first stretch limousine wasn't invented until 1928, but the word limousine has been around since the beginning of the twentieth century, when it mostly referred to enclosed luxury cars in general. The term comes from the French geographic region of Limousin, the connection being a perceived similarity between the enclosed part of the cars and a style of hood popularly worn by people in that province. Limousin gets its name from Limoges, a city there, and that name is from the Latin exonym Lemovices, referring to a Gaulish tribe that lived in central France. Finally, Lemovices probably means "winners with elm" and derives from a Proto-Indo-European origin. The abbreviation limo is from 1959, and after a three-decade rise the rebracketing has finally become more widely used than its predecessor.
Hello! I'm Adam Aleksic, a senior studying government and linguistics at Harvard University, where I co-founded the Harvard Undergraduate Linguistics Society. In addition to etymology, I also really enjoy trivia, politics, vexillology, geography, board games, conlanging, art history, and law.