Today I quite accidentally, and equally whimsically, walked into a concert of church bells at Yale University. There, I learned that carilloneur is the word for the person making those sounds, and (by extension) that they play it on the carillon, a keyboard of sorts that corresponds to 23 bells in the belfry. This got me interested in the etymology of carillon, and it truly is fascinating. Apparently this comes from French, where the Old French word was quarrillon. This actually meant "set of four bells", which makes it nineteen short of the modern carillon, but bells were probably way harder to get back in the day anyway. Quarillon derives from Latin quaternionem, which just meant "set of four" and could refer to a quartet of just about anything. No bells, specifically; that was an implication that was established later. Clearly, you can see where this is going: quaternionem is basically a conjugation of quater, meaning "four", which may be reconstructed to the Proto-Indo-European root kweter, or "four" as well.
Mescaline is a psychedelic drug that comes from the peyote cactus, which is indigenous to Central America. However, it's more than just the hallucinogen that comes from there- the word does too! Mescaline has actually been steeped in Native American cultures for almost 6,000 years, and, through an initial borrowing in German as mezcalin, its name derives from the mescal cactus (a kind of peyote). This in turn comes from the Nahuatl word mexcalli, which meant "agave stew", because mescaline was often ingested via that medium. Obviously the scientific suffix -ine, meaning a type of substance, was added later. Since the word mescaline was first coined in English in 1896, its usage steadily increased until the early 1970s, until it decreased almost three times, due to decreased availability as a result of higher federal regulation of the drug.
What's the relationship between second, the unit of time, and second, the thing after first? Well, the latter has been around much longer, but we can trace both to Latin. Back when Ptolemy was categorizing all kinds of stuff, he called minutes pars minuta prima, which meant "first small part" and implied that it was the first major subdivision of an hour. Seconds, on the other hand, were designated pars minuta secunda, which meant "second small part" and implied that it was the second major subdivision of an hour. As the phrases evolved, the first one shed the pars and prima to become English minute, and the second one lost pars and minuta to become "second". Interesting as that is, let's move on. Secunda (which, meaning "the thing after first", is obviously the etymon of the other meaning of "second") comes from another Latin word, sequor, which meant "to follow" and comes from Proto-Indo-European sek, "to follow", through Proto-Italic. Minuta, meanwhile, comes from minuere, meaning "to diminish", from PIE mey, meaning "small".
In the 1550s, the word abrecock was borrowed into English. After a few centuries of development, this eventually gave way to apricot. Surprisingly, this came from Catalan and not any other European language- in this case from the word abercoc, which had the same meaning. This, in all likelihood, traces to the Arabic word al-burquq, which actually meant "the plum". This sort of makes sense; the fruits don't look all that different, after all. Al-burquq comes from Greek berikokkia, which referred more to the trees than the fruits. Before that, we can derive this from Latin praecoccia, meaning "peaches", which is getting quite out of hand. This literally may be defined as "ripen early", which means that we can eliminate the prae-/pre- prefix meaning "before", leaving us with the root coquere, "cook". So, something that ripens early is cooked before. Coquere comes from Proto-Indo-European pekw, also meaning "to cook", and that's that. Even if we disregard the fascinating morphemic change, the origin is especially scintillating because of the path the word origin took. Rarely does something go from Latin to Greek (normally it's vice versa), and the Catalan and Arabic routes are also unusual.
Today I learned what gaslighting is. Apparently, it's a psychological manipulation technique used by sociopaths meant to create confusion and doubt in a person by forcing them to have doubts about their sanity and memory. But where does that term come from? Well, in 1938, a British play called Gas Light was released, in which a guy attempts to convince his wife that she's going insane through manipulating her environment. Then, in 1944, this was made into its namesake movie, starring Ingrid Bergman alongside Charles Boyer, and the term exploded into popular culture. By the 1980s, this was widely accepted as a phrase by psychologists. The name of the play comes from the fact that, in the play, the wife was convinced that the gas light in the house was dimming. Just like the screen you're reading this on right now. It is dimming; don't you notice? Losing brightness ever so slightly... how weird...
In England, there's a town called Pendle Hill, and in Connecticut, there's a place called Pendleton Hill. Let's break down those names! Originally, Pendle was spelled either pennul or penhul, a toponym which was formed in the 12th or 13th century. The first component is pen, which was the Cumbric (a Brittonic language) word for "hill", and the second bit, hul, traces to Old English hyll, which also meant "hill" and is obviously the etymon of the word hill itself (this, through Proto-Germanic huliz, meaning "stone", comes from Proto-Indo-European kollem, "rock"). You can kind of see where I'm going here: Pendle Hill actually translates into "hill hill hill". While this may seem like the ultimate redundancy, Pendleton Hill is possibly even more so. One etymological theory is that -ton (meaning "town", of course) comes from the Old English word dun, meaning "hill". Although there are other possibilities, "hill hill hill hill" would make it the most whimsical place name there is.
Hello! I'm Adam Aleksic. This year, I graduated from Harvard University with a degree in Government and Linguistics. There, I co-founded the Harvard Undergraduate Linguistics Society and wrote a thesis on Serbo-Croatian language policy, magna cum laude. In addition to etymology, I also really enjoy philosophy, trivia, vexillology, geography, board games, conlanging, art history, and law.