Ramen was brought by Chinese immigrants to Japan in the late 1800s, and it soon became a staple of their culinary culture. After the instant variety was created in 1958, it also grew in popularity in America, with the word consistently increasing in usage. It was actually more commonly referred to as shina soba ("Chinese soba") in Japan until the 1950s, but then shina became sort of pejorative so they switched over. The word ramen is a borrowing from Chinese lamian, the source of lo mein; the l to r switch occurred because the Japanese r sound is an alveolar tap halfway between the phonemes. The first part of that, la, meant "pull" or "stretch", and the second bit, mian, meant "noodle", so lo mein and ramen both mean "stretchy noodles". That would be from Middle Chinese and eventually Sino-Tibetan.
The first attestation of the word condom dates back to the early seventeenth century writings of Scottish noble John Hamilton, who spelled it condum. Shortly afterwards, other spellings like condon, condam, quandam, cundum, and eventually condom emerged; it was also often bowdlerised into c----- or something along those lines. There was a lot of secrecy around the word throughout its history - it wasn't used in media until the late 1980s and it was absent from the first edition of the Oxford English Dictionary - and partially due to the lack of confirmed usages it's difficult to trace an exact etymology. There's an urban myth that it was named after a British court physician, but far more plausible is another theory that the term traces to the Italian word for "glove", guanto. It's probably impossible to ever know for sure, though.
Our mental prototypes of the word arcade probably include retro game rooms full of kids playing Pacman, Galaga, and the like, but before that definition existed arcade (short for video arcade in this context) referred to covered avenues lined with entertainment venues. Even earlier, it meant "covered passageway" (this still is present as a definition today), and before that it specifically meant "arched passageway". The semantic shift gets even more wild when we go back to Latin arcata, or "arch of a bridge", and that derives from Latin arcus (the etymon of arc), "arch"or "bow". Finally, it all comes from the Proto-Indo-European arkwo, also meaning "bow". According to Google NGrams, utilization of the word arcade peaked in 1878 and has been decreasing since.
One thing I've always found unusual but haven't been able to explain is why we use the abbreviation lb to mean "pound". Apparently it traces back to an ancient Roman unit of measurement, libra pondo, which meant "a pound by weight" (their pound was 12 ounces; the word didn't mean 16 ounces until the 1300s). Pondo is also where we get our modern word pound, through Proto-Germanic punda and Old English pund, and the pound currency name derives from association with silver being measured in 12-ounce units. The pound symbol £ is a stylized l from libra pondo and the symbol # is sometimes referred to as a pound sign because it actually started as a fancy cursive combination of the letters l and b and to be used as shorthand for the word pound. I love how all these loose ends come together, just because of one Latin phrase.
When the word ditto was borrowed into English in 1625, it was only used to replace the month name in accounts of dates, to avoid hand cramping due to copying the same term over and over again. 53 years later, people figured out that they can use ditto in any context where a list contains repetition, and the rest is history. In the original Tuscan, ditto meant "the said" (as in, something that was already said), which is a variation of Italian detto. Detto in turn is from the Latin verb dire, or "to say", which is a contraction of the infinitive dicere, "to speak". Finally, through Proto-Italic, dicere derives from the Proto-Indo-European reconstruction deik, meaning "to show". Ditto was especially popular in the 1770s and has been decreasing in usage since then, despite a small resurgence in the 1940s.
A threnody is a type of musical or poetic composition composed in memory of a dead person. The word was first used in 1634 when it was spelled thrænody, but the ash quickly got swapped out in favor of the letter e. That was taken directly from Ancient Greek threnodia, which is often translated as "lamentation". Threnodia was composed out of the roots threnos, meaning "wailing", and oide, meaning "ode" or "song". Threnos has an unknown origin: some think it's onomatopoeic, but there are cognates in Sanskrit, Latin, and Old English that suggest it may be Pre-Greek. Oide is related to the words melody, rhapsody, and others; it derives from the Proto-Indo-European root hweyd, meaning "sing". Usage of the word threnody peaked in 1904 and has been decreasing in utilization since.
In phonetics, the schwa symbol (notated with an ə) represents the uh sound, which is fascinating for many reasons: it's the most common vowel sound in English, it's the most relaxed sound our mouths can make, and it can be represented by any vowel letter. The first usage of this linguistic term was in an 1895 comparative philology textbook. That was taken directly from German, and the Germans borrowed the word from Hebrew sheva, which denoted a type of diacritic placed under a letter to indicate the absence of a following vowel sound (Jewish grammarians regarded the schwa as not being a vowel, due to its neutral qualities). Further back, sheva meant "emptiness" and may come from an Aramaic word swaya, meaning "equal" or "even".
When I first looked at the word claptrap, I assumed it was some type of onomatopoeic reduplication. Turns out I really missed the mark with that one. Our story takes us back to the thespian world of the 1730s, when actors would use specific rhetorical techniques and jokes, often without true substance, to get the audience applauding. Through their sycophantic tricks, they used words to trap the audience into clapping, and that's how the theatre slang emerged. Over time, the definition was broadened into a less-niche meaning of "nonsense speak", and today claptrap makes up about 0.00000988% of all English words used (down from its 1929 peak, which was about double that). Through Old English clæppan and Proto-Germanic klappona, the verb clap is eventually onomatopoeic, and through Old English træppe and PGmc trep, trap ultimately derives from PIE dremb, meaning "run".
We've been accustomed to the concept of privilege for as long as the English language existed. There are attestations from the dark ages of it being used as a Latin word in an English context, but it really started to grow its own identity in the 1100s CE. Since those early days, the Oxford English dictionaries lists 131 different forms of the word emerging, with spellings as diverse as priuilag and prewyllage; by the eighteenth century privilege was pretty standardized, especially due to influence from the French cognate. The aforementioned Latin word was privilegium, which had the very specific definition of "law applying to one person". That's composed of the roots privus, meaning "individual", lex, meaning "law", and the noun-forming suffix -ium. Privus (the etymon of private) comes from the Proto-Indo-European reconstruction per, or "forward", and lex comes from PIE leg, "to gather".
The Middle English Dictionary identifies the word seurgate ("sewer-gate") in a 1403 text, and, soon after that, other sources show souer, seuer, and finally sewer emerging to describe channels for carrying away waste and drainage. All of this comes from the Anglo-French word sewere, which is from Old French sewiere or seuwiere. That's thought to be a pretty mangled borrowing from the unattested Gallo-Roman word exaquaria, which meant something more like "drain". The Latin roots there are glaringly obvious (and present in multiple English words): ex-, meaning "out", and aquarius, "pertaining to water" - so water is flowing outwards. Ex- is from Proto-Indo-European eghs, also "out", and aqua derives, through Proto-Italic akwa, from another PIE reconstruction, hekweh, which still meant "water".
Today, the word coquettish is basically a synonym of flirtatious, and that adjective comes from the rarer noun coquette, which was specifically a flirtatious woman. Earlier, however, coquette could refer to a flirtatious individual of any gender, and when the term was borrowed from French coquet, it meant "male flirt" (so the associated sexes slowly swapped over time). Here it gets even more interesting: coquet literally means "little cock" (as in the rooster), because of the belief that male chickens strut in a pompous, provocative manner. Coquet is a diminutive of the word coq, which in Old French was spelled coc (the etymon of our word cock), and that in turn comes from Latin coccus and Frankish kok, with the same definitions. Beyond that, the term is probably imitative of the cry of a chicken, perhaps by way of Proto-Germanic kukkaz.
On page 22 of Kurt Vonnegut's darkly whimsical novel Breakfast of Champions, he claims that the word beaver meaning "vagina" originated among news photographers, who used it as a code word to tell other men that you could see up a woman's skirt from that angle. I don't know where he got that from, but I can't find any sources on that. The euphemism seems to trace back to 1910s British slang, when it referred to a man's beard. By 1927, due to the visual similarity, the definition got extended to female genitalia. The "beard" meaning emerged because of a resemblance to beaver pelts, and that word goes back to Old English beofor. Even earlier, beofor is from (through Proto-Germanic) the Proto-Indo-European root bher, meaning "bright" or "brown". Usage of beaver in language over time peaked in the 1850s, and the Vonnegutian definition is, in conclusion, erroneous.
Meh is the ultimate expression of boredom and disinterest. Phonetically, it's one of the easiest sounds we can make, involving a simple parting of the lips and expulsion of air through the mouth and nose. With that in mind, it seems like a word that's been around for a while and has changed very little throughout history. However, there's a lot more to meh than meets the eye. It turns out that the term has only been around in pop culture since 1991, when Lisa from The Simpsons used it and spelled it out the episode "Homer's Triple Bypass". Prior to that, there were a few scattered attestations, but that moment really tipped the scales. Some etymologists theorize that meh further derives from Yiddish mnyeh, which served a similar puropse, but beyond that not much is known. The word meh has been increasing in usage since the 1940s.
All etymologists agree that the word fanfare was borrowed from French a little bit before the turn of the seventeenth century, but then things get fuzzy, with two plausible explanations. Some claim that the word is imitative in origin, and that the story stops there, but others claim that the term traces to Arabic farfar, which meant "chatterer". This would have been borrowed by way of the Spanish or Italians and also explains the origin behind French fanfaron, meaning "boaster". Before that, the term is also echoic, so there's onomatopoeia involved either way. Usage of the word fanfare over time peaked in 2003 and, per Google Trends, search interest has been decreasing over the last fifteen years. Of course, there is no connection to either the terms fan or fare.
When the game ping-pong was invented in England at the end of the nineteenth century, it was played with champagne corks and called whiff-whaff after the sounds made when they were hit by a paddle, but later on people switched to using celluloid balls, and since the sound changed the name did too, to reflect the new noise. In 1901, a British manufacturing company saw an opportunity, so they trademarked the name, and later on that was bought by the game production company Parker Brothers. There have been some myths that the name ping-pong is culturally insensitive because it makes fun of Chinese and we should use table tennis instead, but that's apocryphal. The real reason people say table tennis is because other manufacturing companies couldn't use ping pong so they marketed the generic term instead, which is pretty interesting.
Adam Aleksic, a freshman studying linguistics at Harvard University, has been described as the internet's sixth most famous etymologist. He has disturbing interests in words, vexillology, geography, board games, limericks, and law, and he loves writing about himself in the third person.
The Etymology Nerd