The word farce was first attested in the English language in a 1390 cookbook, where it was spelled fars and meant "stuffing". Then, by the early sixteenth century, it became a thing in French theatre to insert comic interludes in dramatic plays. This was thought to be a sort of cinematic "stuffing", and eventually those comic interludes took on a life of their own and the word came to refer to any comedic work with crude exaggerations. The word traces to the Old French verb farcir, which meant "to stuff" and was borrowed in the thirteenth century from Latin farcire, also meaning "stuff" or "cram". That, through Proto-Italic farkjo, is eventually derived from the Proto-Indo-European reconstruction brek, meaning "cram together" (also thought by some etymologists to be the source of the word frequent, with the connection being the idea of short intervals being crammed together).
A carmagnole is a type of song and street dance popular during the French Revolution, and when I first looked up the word, I was pretty sure it would somehow be related to the Latin word carmen, meaning "song". However, I was very mistaken. The word comes from the title of a specific song, La Carmagnole, first sung by the revolutionary sans-culottes in August 1792. The name was a reference to a type of short jacket that was popular at the time among the lower classes. That comes from the name of an Italian town, Carmagnola, because it was associated with the Piedmontese peasants who brought over the fashion. I couldn't find any more details on the town's toponymy, but there is a well-known sculpture of Roman Emperor Justinian's head in Venice called Carmagnola because the artist was from the city and there's also a strain of industrial hemp from northern Italy called Carmagnola.
The berry part of the word cranberry is obvious, but what in the world is a cran? We can trace the archaic prefix back to the noun's first usage in 1672, when it referred to the North American plant. It seems that the colonists had some German influence, because they named it after a similar plant in central Europe that was called kraanbere in Low German. The kraan part of that meant "crane" like the bird, possibly due to a perceived resemblance between the plant's stamens and the beaks of cranes, although that's unsure. The word, which is a cognate of English crane, derives from Proto-Germanic krano (still "crane") and eventually the Proto-Indo-European reconstruction gerh, meaning "to cry hoarsely". Bere, which is likewise related to English berry, probably derives from Proto-Indo-European beh, meaning "shine" or "glisten". Looking at Google Trends, search frequency for cranberry consistently peaks every November, which is unsurprising but still interesting to me.
I recently learned that there is a phenomenon of the letter d in Ancient Greek sometimes becoming l in Latin. Here are some examples of this:
Back before cursors were the moving things on our computer screens, the word referred to a sliding piece of a scientific instrument. Earlier than that, in Latin, it meant "errand boy." This comes from the more literal translation of "runner," since the word comes from the past participle stem of the verb currere, meaning "to run." There are several other English derivations from that stem: the word cursive was borrowed in 1784 to describe a kind of "running" script, the word cursory evolved from a meaning of "rapid" to "superficial" or "careless," and the word course comes from a sense of onward movement. Finally, currere traces, through Proto-Italic korzo, to the Proto-Indo-European reconstruction kers, also meaning "run." Cursors are also called mouses/mice because of the physical clicking thing's resemblance to an actual mouse, and pointers because they point at things.
The word jackpot traces back to the late nineteenth century, when there were several games involving the words jack and pot. In a now-obsolete sense that emerged in 1881, the term was used in poker to describe antes beginning when no player has a card better than a jack. There were also two variants of the same poker-type game, Jacks or Better and Jack-Pots, wherein players contributed money to a central "pot" and then kept contributing more money until someone had jacks or higher. When slot machines became popular in the 1920s and 1930s, they started using the phrase jackpot for the highest payoffs, which led to the phrase hit the jackpot and the use of jackpot to mean "big prize acquired by chance". Interestingly, jackpot had a negative sense for a while: it sometimes meant "difficult situation" (from the idea that it was difficult to get out of a card game) and it was used in early 1900s criminal slang to mean "arrest".
Recently, I had the realization that the word panorama immediately meant "wide view" to me throughout elementary and middle school, but after that my prototype of the word shifted to be the camera mode on iPhone. It's interesting how our own perceptions of words change with new technology! Anyway, panorama developed from the name of a specific painting of a Scottish landscape on a cylindrical surface by eighteenth-century English artist Robert Barker. He coined the word from the Greek prefix pan-, meaning "everywhere", and horama, meaning "sight", "spectacle", or "that which is seen". The h was dropped because it would be weird to say panhorama, but that later led to confusions such as when the word diorama was coined based on Greek dia- (meaning "through") and panorama. Finally, pan- is from Proto-Indo-European pant, meaning "all", and horama traces to PIE wer, meaning "observe".
The word beleaguer was first introduced to the English language sometime in the 1580s, when it meant "t0 surround with troops" (basically besiege). Eventually, that type of problem became more metaphorical, giving us the modern definition of "cause repeated problems for". The be- part of beleaguer is an archaic suffix meaning "around" (also present in words like beset and belay) and the leaguer part comes from the Dutch or German verb legeren, meaning "to camp". Literally, that meant "to camp around", which makes sense, given the historical meaning. Legeren is a relative of the word lair and comes from Dutch leger, meaning "bed". Finally, leger comes from the Proto-Indo-European reconstruction legh, which meant "lie" and is also the source of classic words such as lager, ledger, fellow, and law. I've explained be before, but it comes from PIE hepi, meaning "at" or "near".
In elementary school, my third grade teacher told me that the word gist (meaning "main idea") stood for general idea statement. Until recently, I had accepted that as true without thinking about it. However, it's pretty rare for acronym etymologies to be true, and this is no exception. The word originated as part of a legal term of art referring to "the real ground" of an action or indictment. That comes from the Anglo-Norman phrase cest action gist, or "this action lies". The gist part of that is from the verb for "lie", gesir, and gesir traces to Latin iacere, also "to lie". Iacere (which is also the source of words like trajectory, jet, project, adjacent, and more) traces to the Proto-Italic reconstruction jakeo and ultimately Proto-Indo-European yeh, meaning "to throw". According to Google Ngrams, gist has had a very inconsistent pattern of usage with peaks in several centuries and currently makes up 0.00011% of all English words.
The Devanagari script is an abugida used in India to express languages like Sanskrit, Hindi, Marathi, and more. The word for the script itself is Sanskrit, and comes from the words deva, meaning "divine", and nagari, meaning "abode" or "city". The idea was that a writing system was something "relating to a city" or based on something "spoken in cities", and this was just a better version of the pre-existing Nagari script. Deva, through Proto-Indo-Iranian daywas, comes from the Proto-Indo-European root dyew, meaning "to be bright" (that's also the source of words such as deity, diva, jovial, adieu, and sojourn). Nagari, meanwhile, possibly comes from the unattested compound nrgara, meaning "gathering of men" and coming from nr, which meant "men", and gara, "gathering". It could also ultimately be Dravidian in origin: it's also been compared to Telugu nagaru, meaning "palace".
In recent years, the word poggers (or pog for short) has emerged among young people as an interjection denoting excitement. The term originated in the Twitch livestreaming community, which had a reaction emote with that name since early 2017. That's based on a humorous portmanteau of PogChamp, another emote depicting an excited man's face, and the Pepe the Frog, who is similarly shown smiling in the poggers emote. The name PogChamp comes from a 2011 video of two men playing the game Pogs, a children's game played using milk or juice caps. One of those juices was a tropical drink called POG, which lent its name to the game and stands for its ingredients Pomegranate, Orange, and Guava. Since its introduction, the word poggers rapidly became a meme, peaking in usage in late 2020 and declining after that. It's weird to me how much that juice name evolved over time.
When the word opportunity was first borrowed into the English language in 1387, it was spelled oportunite, and other forms around the time included oportunyte, oportewnyte, oportunyty, oppertunitie, and more. The noun was taken from Old French, where it also showed up as oportunite. That was borrowed in the thirteenth century from Latin opportunitas, meaning "fitness" or "convenience". Opportunitas is from the adjective opportunas ("fit" or "favorable"), which derived from the phrase ob portum veniens, meaning "coming toward a port". The idea was that a wind blowing toward a harbor was favorable or convenient for ships trying to get to the shore. You might know ob- from words like obscene, oppress, and obstruct: it comes from Proto-Indo-European opi, meaning "against". Finally, portus, the nominative of portum, comes from PIE prtu and veniens traces to PIE gwa, "to go".
The noun peach was borrowed into the English language around the turn of the fifteenth century. At the time, it was mostly spelled peche or peoche, and the current spelling only became the norm around the 1600s (also when peachy as an adjective first started popping up, although it only meant "excellent from 1900 onwards). The word comes from Old French pesche, which was borrowed straight out of Medieval Latin pesca. In classical Latin, pesca was persica, a term that still survives in the scientific name of the "peach". That was a shortening of Latin malum Persicum, meaning "Persian apple". That's a translation of Ancient Greek malon persikon, with the same meaning. I've explored malon before - it's also the source of the words melon and marmalade - and persikon is from the name of the country, Persis. Finally, Persis has an uncertain etymology, but might either be from an ancient warrior tribe called Pars or from Sanskrit parasu, meaning "hatchet" or "axe".
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.