When Alfred Nobel registered the patent for dynamite in 1867, he originally called it dynamit and drew on the Ancient Greek word dynamis, which meant "power", for the coinage. Eventually, when the word was standardized and taken into English, the e at the end was added. Nobel's decision may have been influenced by the pre-existing word dynamic, but the Greek root was definitely the source, and it all comes from the same place, anyway- the verb dynasthai, which could mean "to be able" or "to wield power". That in turn has an unknown origin but could be from the reconstructed Proto-Indo-European term dewh, meaning "fit". Dynamite as a verb was first used in 1878 and the usage in literature over time is fascinating- it separately peaked twice during the world wars and is now declining in utilization.
The word property got spelled out a ton of times in the days of Middle English, so it makes sense that there were a lot of alterations to the word. At various times, one could find propertee, properte, propirte, and proprete, and in Old French it was propriete. Back then, it had a secondary definition of "individual quality", as well, because a property could be metaphorical too. That's not really important in tracing the etymology, though: just a curious detour. The Old French word comes from Latin proprietas, which meant either "a possession" or "a quality", and that's from the earlier adjective proprius, which meant "one's own" or "special". All of it, through Proto-Italic prijos, eventually derives from the Proto-Indo-European reconstruction preiwo, or "individual". Usage of the word property in literature over time since the turn of the nineteenth century.
In the television show and book series A Series of Unfortunate Events, the Daily Punctilio is an inaccurate newspaper causing trouble for the Baudelaire orphans. That's caught my attention multiple times, because there really aren't any other papers that use the same peculiar noun in their name. Turns out, a punctilio is a petty or insignificant point in proceedings. While that's normally more associated with courts, I can sorta see why the author, Lemony Snicket, chose the word for his paper. Punctilio was borrowed in the 1590s with a meaning of "point" from either Spanish puntillo or Italian puntiglio (from whence punctilious, "showing attention to detail", also derives). Either of those would be from Latin punctus, also "point", which as the verb pungere meant "to prick". Finally, we reconstruct it all to Proto-Indo-European peuk, with the same definition. You get the point.
Yesterday I mentioned that abstemious is one of only two words where all vowels appear in alphabetical order. It's a rarely used term, making up only 0.000016% of words used, basically meaning "not self-indulgent", often to do with food or drink (it's probably used less often because synonyms such as temperate or moderate can work just as well). The word was borrowed circa 1600 from Latin, where we can immediately chop off the ab- prefix (meaning "away from") and the -ous suffix, which denotes the presence of a quality. What's left is a mangled version of the root temetum, which in Latin was used to denote particularly strong drink, normally really powerful mead or wine. Etymologists are not absolutely certain what led up to that, but temetum could derive from Proto-Indo-European temh, meaning "dark", because the strong beverages in question were often quite dark.
I learned a fun fact from my Princeton college interviewer today! Apparently facetious is one of only two words in the English language to have all the vowels in alphabetical order (the other being abstemious, and, as a bonus, both can take the -ly suffix to fit the "sometimes y" rule). This beautiful word for "unserious" (often at inopportune occasions) came from French facetieux in the 1590s, the root being facetie, or "joke". This in turn derives from the Latin adjective facetus, which could mean anything from "witty" to "elegant", but mostly similar to the modern definition. Where that comes from is actually a bit of a mystery. The going theory is that it's somehow related to the Latin word for "torch", facis, through the Proto-Indo-European reconstruction gehk, "to shine", but that's really sort of a stretch.
Most people know that Valentine's Day is named after St. Valentine, but the rest isn't discussed too often. The Latinized version of the name is Valentinus, the root being valentia, or "strong" (also the etymon of the chemical term valence). Valentia is the present participle of the verb valere ("to be strong") and that, through Proto-Italic waleo, eventually derives from Proto-Indo-European hwelh, which could either mean "to rule" or "to be strong". As you can see, the saint's name really has nothing to do with love, and neither did the saint himself... until the High Middle Ages, that is, when it became a custom in English and French courts to choose a sweetheart around that time of year when birds choose their mates. By the 1450s, the concepts of Valentine's Day and love were inextricably linked, and we've never looked back.
In English, a large number of our etymologies involve affixation, wherein a word element is attached to an existing word to make a new word. We often see terms with prefixes and suffixes, which involve parts being added before and after the root, respectively, but nobody ever talks about infixes, which involve an affix being inserted into the middle of a word, rather than on the ends. This is very rare in our language, and is only really found with chemical compounds (like how pipecoline was formed from picoline) or with the infix ma (like how edumacation was created to sound quasi-intellectual). Infixation should not be confused with tmesis, the insertion of an entire word, which we've seen with a whole nother, the diddly in scrum-diddly-um-ptious, un-freaking-believable, and a few more expletives. Both are very cool processes that don't get enough recognition!
I've always liked the word pecuniary ("of, or pertaining to, money"), and I like it even more now that I know its scintillating origin. The term was borrowed at the turn of the sixteenth century from Latin pecuniarius, which basically had the same definition. The root is pecunia, meaning "wealth", and that is from pecu, meaning "cattle". That might seem like a leap first, but makes more sense when you consider that livestock was a way to measure wealth in old times, so we went from "cattle" to "wealth in cattle" to "wealth". Pecu, probably through Proto-Italic, comes from the Proto-Indo-European reconstruction peku, also "cattle". Usage of the word pecuniary in literature over time peaked in 1840 and has been decreasing since then, but it is still a beautiful word with a beautiful etymology.
The name Beijing combines the Chinese words bei, meaning "north", and jing, meaning "capital", for an overall meaning of "northern capital". This name was coined by the Ming emperor Zhu Di so as to contrast to Nanjing, the "southern capital". Together, Beijing and Nanjing served as the two administrative cities of the Chinese empire... until a series of political changes left us with just the northern capital being the actual capital. Something similar was happening in Japan: Kyoto used to be the capital, so its name literally means "capital" (kyo) "city" (to). However, when Tokyo was chosen to replace it, they named it "eastern" (to) "capital" (kyo). The two tos mean different things. My final secretly redundant capital is that of Kazakhstan- the city of Astana has a name literally meaning "capital city" as well, deriving from a Persian word for "threshold". Fascinating!
There are 21 cities and towns named Rochester in 17 American states, Canada, and Australia. All of these are named after Rochester, a city in Kent, England. But where does that name come from? Let's start with the suffix -chester, which you've certainly seen in many city names. That and -cester always come from the Old English word ceaster, which means "Roman camp", so all cities with names like Leicester, Westchester, Worcester, and so on (just some examples I could think of) were either colonized by the Romans or are named after cities colonized by the Romans. Meanwhile, the stem of the word comes from the Old English word Hrofes, which is the possessive of the name Hrofi. So Rochester means "Hrofi's Roman camp"... except it doesn't. Turns out that the scribe who copied down the name into English, St. Bede the Venerable, mistranslated the Latin word Durobrivae, which was supposed to be "fort by the bridge". Instead of "bridge", we got Hrofi, which became the Ro- in the 22 international Rochesters.
How did the letters x and o come to represent hugs and kisses? Let's start with x: the practice of using this letter goes back to the Middle Ages, when it was used by illiterate people to sign documents. X was probably so common due to its simplicity and resemblance to the Christian cross (it was associated with Jesus for a long time before that). After signing, many of those people would kiss the signature to emphasize the importance and religious aspect of the mark, and thus the association got formed. The o part of it is a bit more obscure. It might have something to do with Jewish immigrants to the United States, who signed it with an o to not use the cross, or with shopkeepers who signed that way. It could've been formed as a contrast to the x, or adopted because of an aesthetic similarity to what a hug looks like, or just taken from tic-tac-toe. A lot of that is speculative, but any one of those origins would be fascinating if correct.
The word slogan was first attested sometime in the 1670s, but it was around since the 1510s in the form of slogorne. These terms come from Gaelic sluagh-ghairm, which meant "battle cry". This is rather surprising, but makes sense if you consider the context: slogans used picked up by political factions, which ranged from violent to peaceful. By 1704, the word adopted a secondary definition of "distinctive phrase", something that was later applied to companies as well. Sluagh is from the Old Irish word slog, also "army", and that (through Proto-Celtic slougos) eventually is from Proto-Indo-European slowgo, or "entourage". Ghairm, meanwhile, hails from Old Irish gairm, "cry", which (through Proto-Celtic garman) eventually derives from the Proto-Indo-European reconstruction ghr, also meaning something like "shout". I just think that's an awesome and unexpected etymology!
The re- prefix in the word rehearse obviously means "again". In Middle English, Old French, and Latin, it had the same meaning and spelling, and it's eventually reconstructed to the Proto-Indo-European word wert, meaning "turn". What's interesting to me about rehearse, though, is the root hearse, which as a word today means "a vehicle for transporting coffins". Turns out there actually is a connection: they both derive from Latin hirpex, describing a large kind of rake: rehearse through Old French hercier, meaning "drag", and hearse through Old French herce, "portcullis". Basically, when you rehearse, you drag something across again, and a hearse contains a rake- or portcullis-like framework over a coffin. Going even further back, the weirdness increases as we trace hirpex to Oscan hirpus, meaning "wolf", because wolf fur is bristly like a rake, apparently. It's crazy and honestly quite confusing how the English language connects do-overs with death with rakes with wolves, but I love it.
It's pretty common knowledge where the word hamburger comes from. It's named after Hamburg, a city in northern Germany. This is similar to how Frankfurters were named after Frankfurt and wieners were named after Vienna; in this case, the term was applied because Germans from the area brought their style of soft seasoned meat to America, where it became known as Hamburg meat for a while until Charlie Nagreen used that to make the first real hamburger in 1885. That's fascinating, but what's most interesting to me is the subsequent rebracketing: so many people thought that hamburger included the prefix ham-, because both words included some kind of meat, so they abbreviated it to burger, a term that really shouldn't exist given the origin.
Let's learn through tankas,
or Japanese poetry
a bit like haikus.
Different syllable count, though,
and they have five lines, not three.
The first part is tan,
which meant "short" in Japanese,
and then ka comes next,
definition of "ditty".
So, together, it's "brief song".
Adam Aleksic is a 217-month-old, 2800-ounce high school senior with disturbing interests in etymology, vexillology, geography, board games, and law. Adam is anxiously awaiting his college rejections and loves writing about himself in the third person.
The Etymology Nerd