Samaritans follow Samaritanism, which is sort of a different form of Judaism, and the phrase "Good Samaritan" derives from a parable in the Gospel of Luke (first attested in the 1630s). Samaritans are also traditionally from the region of Samaria. But here's the thing: we're not sure if the Samaritans are named after Samaria, or if Samaria is named after the Samaritans. It's sort of a chicken-and-the-egg kind of question. Even then, the origin is disputed and even politicized (because there's a whole debate over whether the people-group rightfully owns the place). There is a Hebrew cognate which traces back to a word for "to guard", shomer, and the Samaritans' own appellation for themselves is Shamerim, which means "guardians of the Torah", so that probably hints at an etymology which is thereafter uncertain.
Solipsism is the philosophical concept that only your own mind definitely exists, and that any other knowledge is uncertain. The idea was first put forth by Descartes and his statement cogito, ergo sum, but the term wasn't borrowed into English until 1871. The word is composed of three parts, all in Latin: solus, meaning "alone", ipse, meaning "self", and -ism, a suffix commonly used for ideologies or concepts. Solus, which is the etymon of English sole ("alone"), comes from the Proto-Indo-European reflexive pronoun swe, which can sort of be translated as "oneself". Ipse, since it also has to do with the concept of self, coincidentally also comes from swe, and -ism has an uninteresting history going back to Ancient Greek. That redundant etymology of solipsism is quite interesting: oneself-oneself-ism!
The word energy had generally the same meaning when it was borrowed from Middle French energie in the 1590s, but the nineteenth century is when it really got established as a scientific concept as well as an everyday term. Energie is from Latin energia, which in turn is from Ancient Greek energeia, a word meaning "activity" (the verb form being energein, "to be in action"). The idea of that was developed by Aristotle in the fourth century BCE, and he described it by combining the prefix en-, which could mean "in", "at", or "within", and the root ergon, denoting work. Therefore, energy is "work within", which makes a lot of sense. Ergon derives from the Proto-Indo-European reconstruction werg, "to do", and usage of the word energy in literature over time has been decreasing since a peak in the 1980s.
Daffodils look very little like asphodels, but etymologically they're the same thing. The current form of the word daffodil was coined in the 1590s. Before that, it meant asphodel; the two were often compared and the defintion was not separated until then. That comes from the Middle English word affodil (the starting letter d is probably from the Dutch word for "the", de, because they would refer to the flowers as de affodil and eventually those two words joined together) and can be traced to Latin asphodelus, still referring to the asphodel flower. In Ancient Greece, a place where asphodels had religious importance, it was something like asphodelos, and nobody knows where that came from, but Proto-Indo-European is probably a safe guess. The word asphodel in its current form is from the Latin word, as its only synonym was gradually taken over by that new meaning.
Cancer was first documented by the Ancient Egyptians over 3500 years ago. It wasn't given its modern name until 400 BCE, though, when the Ancient Greek physician Hippocrates noticed that many tumors with swollen veins are shaped like crabs, so he named the mass of cells karkinos, which meant "crab". This became cancer in Latin, which was later borrowed into English. This crabby connection is also why Cancer is the zodiac of the crab. Now let's go back to karkinos. Through the Proto-Italic word kankos, this comes from an even earlier Proto-Italic word, karkros, which meant "enclosure" (in reference to the shape a crab's pincers form). That in turn may be reconstructed to the Proto-Indo-European root krkr, which meant "circular". Usage of the word cancer in literature over time, both for the symbol and the disease, has been markedly increasing since the 1970s.
The YouTube channel Atlas Pro just released a terrific video called "The Geography of Yohanan", which raises an excellent point. Mohammed is often credited as being the most common name in the world, but there's a hidden name which might have even greater spread. Yohanan is a Hebrew word meaning "God is gracious", and just as Mohammed spread with Islam, Yohanan spread with Christianity to countries all over Europe. It spent the longest time in Greek, where variations such as Yanni and Gianni arose. Then Iohannes was borrowed into Latin, and the name's development skyrocket from there.
...Among many others. At the very least, all these variations of Yohanan are comparable to the extent of Mohammed - and that's not even considering all the last names like Jackson and Johnson. It's crazy how a name none of us recognize today is potentially held by the most people in the world. Onomastics (the study of name origins) is a very interesting subfield of etymology!
The word reply was first used as noun in the middle of the sixteenth century, but it was used as a verb for over 150 years prior to that. Usage peaked in 1850 but has recently started rebounding due to a new Internet-related meaning. The word is taken from French replier, with the same meaning. That comes from Latin replicare, which meant something more like "repeat", because you're sort of repeating communication with the person you're replying to. Replicare is also the etymon of replicate, which makes even more sense when we consider the literal translation of replicare: "fold again". When something is folded, it becomes two, which is both repeated and replicated. Replicare contains the prefix re-, meaning "again", and the root is plicare, "fold". Through Proto-Italic, that derives from Proto-Indo-European plek, "to plait".
Today, we're going to talk about ships. In the olden days, instead of a rudder, sailors would use a single oar in the back of the boat to guide it. When the ship had to dock, the side with the oar on it would face outward. Because you could better see the night sky from that half, it became known as starboard, and the side that faced the docks was known as port, for obvious reasons. Nowadays, however, port specifically refers to the left side of a ship, and starboard to the right. Why? Because the majority of sailors, like most people, were right-handed, and the oar was kept on the right side of the boat. Over time, the definitions shifted to be standardized meanings of "left" and "right". Finally, let me just dispel the myth that the word posh comes from the phrase Port Out, Starboard Home: most popular acronym etymologies like that are false.
If you wanted to bore a hole in the 1700s, you would have to use a hand-cranked drill to perforate the desired surface. Using the revolving tool necessitates a very dull, repetitive motion, which can often cause feelings of ennui or listlessness. Therefore, in 1768 the verb to bore got extended from the action of drilling to the causation of boredom, and it only grew from there. Now an irritating person can also be a bore (coined 1812), and you can feel boredom (1852). Usages of all terms related to boring are down since the initial craze in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, but they're here to stay. Okay, back to the verb for "drilling", the original bore. That's from Middle English boren, which is from Old English borian, "to pierce". Through Proto-Germanic burona, we can eventually reconstruct that to Proto-Indo-European breh, which meant "to carve". Hope that wasn't boring to you guys.
Imbroglio is a rather beautiful word describing a complicated, often embarrassing situation. That particular meaning was metaphorically applied in 1818, but since the word's first application in 1750 till then, it meant something more like "jumble". The term, as you can see just by looking at it, is Italian, where it meant "tangle". Now that we know that, we can eliminate the prefix -im, which was a generally useful affix that meant "into", "upon", "in", "on", or just denoted derivation for verbs. The root is broglio, meaning "confusion". That's most likely from Middle French brouiller, which is also the etymon of embroil. Due to a connection between confusion and mixing things up, that's reconstructed as coming from a Proto-Germanic root for "broth", brutha, which would be from Proto-Indo-European bhreu, "to boil".
The word Ramadan was borrowed into the English language as the British started having increased contact with Muslims through trade. Today, it refers to the ninth month of the Muslim calendar. This shifts along our Gregorian calendar over time, such that it passes through all the months in 33 years. However, when the word was first coined in Arabic, it appears to definitely have been during the summer, because the name literally translates to "the hot month". That's from ramida, meaning "burnt" or "scorched". Prior to that, it can be traced to irtamada, which meant "to be consumed by grief and sorrow." I'm sure after a month of fasting, I'd be consumed by grief and sorrow too! Usage of the word Ramadan in literature over time has been steadily increasing with increased Islamic exposure in Occidental society.
The words "cower" and "coward" are etymologically unrelated, contrary to what I've been thinking for years. Coward was borrowed in the mid-1200s from the French word couard, and that's from Old French coart, with essentially the same definition as today. After eliminating the suffix -ard, denoting the possession of a quality, the root there is coe, meaning "tail" (because a coward runs away with their tail between their legs whenever they can). That's from Latin coda, an alteration of earlier cauda, which eventually derives from Proto-Indo-European kehw, still "tail". Cower, meanwhile, was taken in the mid-1300s from Middle German kuren, meaning "lie in wait" (with the modern connotation, it's waiting for your fears to pass). The etymology for that word is uncertain, but its possible Scandinavian heritage disprove any connection to coward.
To institute something is to establish it or set it up, but an institute is an organizational body. Both definitions come from the Latin word instituere, which meant "to put in place". The way they came about differed, however: the verb is through institutus and the noun from institutum, which meant "ordinance". It wasn't too much of a stretch from "established law" to "established organization", and here we are today with the two meanings. Back to the etymology of instituere - we can remove the prefix in-, meaning "in", giving us statuere, which could be interpreted as "to establish" or "to set up". Statuere is from status, meaning "position" (because positions are established; this is also the etymon of English status), and that's from Proto-Indo-European sta, "to stand".
Usage of the word heathen in the last five centuries peaked dramatically several separate times: in the 1520s, 1590s, 1600s, 1640s, 1750s, and 1840s. Perhaps that's when people were feeling particularly religious. Today, the word refers to any individual(s) outside of the scope of a major religion, but when it was encompassed by the Middle English word hethen, it referred specifically to people who weren't Christians or Jews. Same goes for the Old English word haethen, which was merged with Old Norse heithinn, meaning "pagan", to create the precursor to today's term. Both of those derive from Proto-Germanic haithi, a word meaning "uncultivated soil" (because pagans were "religiously uncultivated"; this is also the etymon of English heathland, "shrublike infertile land"), from Proto-Indo-European skayt, or "clear"
The beginning of William Chester Minor's life was ordinary but successful. Born to Congregationalist missionaries in 1834 Sri Lanka, Minor was later sent to America and studied anatomy at Yale Medical School. After graduating in 1863, he served as an army doctor. Later in life, he became one of the largest contributors to the Oxford English Dictionary (the largest etymological reference book out there) by providing examples of quotations of words throughout history to show how the definitions shifted over time. Minor's research got more and more efficient with time, and he was praised repeatedly by the OED staff for being a major asset to the dictionary's compiling. However, there's something about him that none of the etymologists knew about until 1891 - he was a clinically insane murderer doing everything from his asylum. The wife of the man he killed was sympathetic and brought him books, and he dipped into his own personal library to become a prolific volunteer, but the fact remains that Minor was a paranoid criminal. In 1902, he chopped off his own penis due to his mental problems, then slowly slid into dementia until his eventual death in 1920. It's so intriguing to me that one of the major forces behind the most important etymological tool
of today was a mentally ill felon.
Something mediocre is pretty middle-of-the-road, but etymologically speaking it's more like middle-of-the-mountain. Borrowed in the 1580s from a Middle French word with the same spelling and definition, mediocre derives from the Latin word mediocris, which meant "ordinary" or "moderate" but had a literal meaning of "halfway up the mountain", because something mediocre is neither at the peak nor at the base of a figurative incline. That's a portmanteau of medius, meaning "middle", and ocris, or "mountain". Medius, through Proto-Italic methios, comes from Proto-Indo-European medhyos, "between". Ocris, meanwhile, traced from PIE hokris, meaning "top", possibly by way of Greek. The graph of usage in literature over time for the word mediocre is pretty situationally ironic: after a peak in 1928, it's decreased and settled about halfway between zero percent and the maximum utilization.
The English language actually owes a surprising amount of words to the Aztecs, including coyote, avocado, chili, and chocolate, but today we'll focus on the word tomato. It was first used in 1753, but an alternate form, tomate, was used for more than a century and a half prior to that; it most likely was changed to look more like the word potato. That's taken from Spanish tomate, which is a loanword from the Nahuatl (a language in the Aztec, or Nahuan, family) word tomatl, which still referred to the nutritional vegetable. However, it had a literal meaning of "swelling fruit" (this connotation of juicy, round plumpness later influenced the development of the old-timey slang word for "attractive woman" as well). Eventually, it goes back to Proto-Nahuan, probably to a word along the lines of "to swell".
Vermicelli, a thin, long type of pasta, has a less-than-appetizing word origin. There are varying standards of what qualifies as vermicelli; the Italians mandate that the diameter must be between 2.08 and 2.30 mm, but internationally those definitions can get a little looser. No matter what the meaning, it's inevitably a loanword from Italian, where it's a plural of vermicello, a term meaning "little worm". While initially shocking, this makes sense considering the shape of the pasta. Vermicello is a diminutive of verme ("worm"), which you can immediately tell is a cognate of the modern-day word worm. That's through Latin vermis, which eventually derives from Proto-Indo-European wrmis , with the same denotation. Usage of the word vermicelli has been decreasing since a peak in the 1780s, when it was apparently abnormally popular.
Historically, a charade was a type of French riddle where separate parts of a word were hinted at and you had to guess the whole thing. That concept of figuring out a word is important, because in the 1840s a new variant of the game named "dumb charades" emerged, wherein people had to act out the word, instead of working with riddles. This got insanely popular in England, to the point where the dumb was dropped entirely and we arrived here with our modern word charade. Zooming back about four hundred years, we can trace charade to the Provençal word charrado, which meant "chatter", something that is linguistically connected to it all because of the wordplay involved in early charades. That's from the Occitan word charrar, which meant "to talk" and is listed as onomatopoeic, but could be connected to words like Spanish charlar and Italian ciarlare. I think it's rather ironic that a silent game's name has such talkative origins.
Adam Aleksic is a 218-month-old, 2800-ounce high school senior with disturbing interests in etymology, vexillology, geography, board games, limericks, and law. Adam is anxiously awaiting his college rejections and loves writing about himself in the third person.
The Etymology Nerd