In recent years, the word yikes has, along with oof, been ubiquitously adopted by Gen Z kids to express reaction to unpleasant situations. It's been used in this context for centuries, but just recently got so popular - according to my recollection and Google Trends, this meteoric increase in usage only took off in 2017. The earliest recorded attestation of yikes with its current definition is from 1953, but it was in use since the eighteenth century as a cry of general excitement. It's possible that yikes originated from yoicks, a fox-hunting cry used to rile up the dogs during a chase. That could even further come from hoicks and hyke, which were deer-hunting cries, but beyond that the origin is unknown. Alternatively, yikes might be an alteration of yipes, a similar vociferation which is imitative of a dog's noises, and some sources even suggest that yikes could be a conflation of both possibilities. The etymology is shrouded in uncertainty, but all prospects are intriguing. It'll be fun to watch yikes develop even further with time!
The cashew nut was originally endemic solely to northeastern Brazil, and before the Europeans came to spread it to the rest of the world it was only known to a few people groups living in the Amazon River Basin. One of those peoples, the Tupians, referred to the cashew as acajuba, which in their language meant "nut that produces itself". Where that word comes from is unknown, because the language wasn't recorded, but it possibly traces back to a Je-Tupi-Carib proto-language and an urheimat in what is today the Brazilian state of Rodôndia. Fast forwarding thousands of years, when the Portuguese discovered the nut from the natives and brought it back home, they needed a word for the new delicacy, so they just used a slight variation of the one the Tupians had been using, acaju. As the nut traveled northward, this was brought into French as acajou, and the British, shortening the French word and misinterpreting the ending, mangled the spelling into cashew as we know it today.
The word amygdala was first used in a 1749 medical dictionary, and the word almond was borrowed from Old French alemonde circa 1300. The former is the part of the brain dealing with fear, the latter is a nut, and there doesn't seem to be an obvious connection between the two at first blush. However, the etymologies of both terms take us back to the same root: Latin amygdalum, which meant "almond"! The word for the brain nucleus was taken directly amygdalum because doctors thought that it resembles the shape of an almond, and the word for the foodstuff underwent some spelling variations in Vulgar Latin that changed it so drastically from its etymon. Going further back in time, amygdalum comes from Ancient Greek amygdale, which has an unknown etymology but is possibly Semitic or something Pre-Greek. There was also a third word deriving from amygdalum that mostly died out since its sixteenth-century inception: amygdales, which meant "tonsils", because they're sort of almond-shaped too.
Mnemonic is a funky-looking term for a device that helps memory retrieval, but how did we ever start using such a weird word? Our story begins in 1672, when polymath Robert Hooke wrote in his diary that he used a book of mnemonic poetic verses. That's the first attestation of the word we have, but it probably existed in the English language for a bit before that. Whatever the case, it was rapidly adopted in Britain, becoming a noun by the 1840s. When it was first used by Hooke and others, mnemonic was a Latinized version of the Greek word mnemonikos, which meant "of or pertaining to memory". The root there is mneme, or "remembrance", which, through Proto-Hellenic, is thought to derive from the Proto-Indo-European reconstruction men, which we've seen before as having a definition of "think". Usage of the word mnemonic peaked in the 1980s and has been decreasing since.
The word coward was taken sometime in the mid-1200s from Anglo-French couard, which comes from the Old French word coart or cuard, still with the same definition. The root of this is coe, meaning "tail" (from the Proto-Indo-European word for "tuft", kehw, through Latin cauda), and it's modified by the suffix -ard, which pejoratively denoted a person carrying out an action (and somehow traces to Proto-Indo-European kar, "hard". The notion is that a coward shows his or her tail when they flee. Now, it seems intuitive that coward would be related to the word cower, since both have to do with a person being afraid of things and they have a similar spelling. This, however, is surprisingly untrue. Cower comes, by way of Middle English curen, from Middle Low German kuren (which meant "lie in wait") or one of its cognates. This has no connection to the Italic word, which I find endlessly amusing.
Hello! I'm Adam Aleksic, a junior 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.