Some kid in my history class asked me yesterday what the etymology of pastoral was, in the context of "nomads". I didn't answer because this plunged me into thought: was pastoral etymologically connected to a pastor (as in minister)? Turns out that it is, and in an unexpected manner. The word pastor came from its French ancestor pastor, which meant "shepherd". This changed to a religious connotation because a pastor is a "shepherd of souls" and shepherds the masses towards salvation. Though the etymological connection is already clear, the French pastor traces back to the Latin pastor, which had the same definition. Let's look back to pastoral for a second. Though it now means "of agriculture and husbandry", or indeed, "of nomadic people", it used to mean "of shepherds", and through French and a conjugated Latin word (pastoralis) also traces back to the Latin word pastor. This word came from pascere, which meant "to lead", since shepherds obviously lead the flock. And since a leader is supposed to protect his people (sorry, whatever half of America is not in power), this came from the Proto-Indo-European word for "protect", peh. Next time somebody mentions a Ministry of Agriculture, laugh at the irony.
The word utopia just made me respect sixteenth-century humanist writers a lot more. Utopia as we know it can be traced back to Thomas More's seminal novel of that name about an island where everything is perfect. To create the word, More made a sort of pun: the stem is topos, meaning "place" in Ancient Greek, and the prefix sort of looks like eu, the word for "good", but it actually traces to ou, which meant "not". This implies that the perfect place cannot actually exist, and is quite a clever and amusing way of coining a term. Ou derives from a Proto-Indo-European word that roughly sounded like hoyu and could be defined as "never". Topos has a much more mysterious background; etymologists can't trace it any further, due to the wide semantic range of the word, which also could be defined as "region", "space, or "part of speech".
A good five years ago, I had a spat with my neighbor about whether or not truffles was named after a city in France. The debate was unresolved, but I can now claim a victory to my argument! According to my sources, the word truffle definitely comes from French, and the word trufle, which referred to the mushroom specifically. This came from Old Provincial, apparently a dialect of French, where it was either trufa, truffe, or something along those lines (with a vowel at the end). This came from the Latin word tufera, which was related to the word tuber, meaning "root", or today, "potato". Earlier back, though still in Latin, tuber meant a "swelling", and the former developed because it kind of looked like a bump out of the ground. It is by this logic that it makes sense that tuber came from Proto-Indo-European's word teue, "to swell" (the etymon of thumb, thousand, thigh, and tomb). If you look at the etymology of it, truffles aren't as gourmet as people make out.
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.