This is less of a single etymology and more of a bunch of sexist linguistic connections that aren't intricate enough to get their own stories, but definitely worth sharing, nonetheless:
Fun fact: the fear of balloons is called globophobia (the root being from Latin globus, meaning "sphere" and the etymon of globe). The word balloon, however, is far more fascinating in its etymology. It was borrowed into English in the 1570s to describe a trendy children's game where an inflated leather ball was kicked back and forth by children- sort of an early soccer, if you will. This evolved to mean a very different kind of inflated sphere over time, obviously. Before that, balloon came (possible through French) from Italian pallone, which simply meant "large ball", which is augmentative of palla, "ball". One way or another, this is thought to derive from the Lombardic palla, which could also mean "bundle", and that would be, through Proto-Germanic ballo, from the Proto-Indo-European reconstruction bhel, meaning "to swell" or "inflate". Usage of the word balloon in the literature only took off in the 1780s when it first came to mean "helium- or hydrogen-filled vessel", and has been increasing sicne then.
Trying to find the etymology of martini is like a cocktail: a lot of things go into it. The word was first used by itself in 1891, from the full name of Martini cocktail, which was coined in 1886. There are two theories proposed by etymologists and mixologists as to its origins. One is that the drink may or may not have been invented in Martinez, California. In any case, it certainly was created in the area, but does the word derive from the town name? The other proposition is that the term hails from the name of a company that makes the ingredient drink vermouth, Martini e Rossi. They certainly are closely associated with the brand today, but it's not one hundred percent certain that their name is the etymon. Lately, there has been a fad of using the suffix -tini to describe drinks served in a stereotypical martini glass (for example, appletini or mochatini) as the word has become more and more ingrained in popular culture.
The word desolate, with the same definition of "overcome by grief", was borrowed along a slew of other Latin terms when the language really began to reach England in the fourteenth century. The term in question, desolatus, is a past participle of the verb desolare, meaning "to leave alone" and coming from the prefix de- ("completely" or "thoroughly") and the root solare ("to make or become lonely"). De- meant "from" in an earlier time, and rather simply comes from a Proto-Indo-European reconstruction with basically the same spelling and denotation. Solare hails from the noun solus, "alone", which comes from a reflexive Proto-Indo-European root referring to the self, swe. The development of a verb form of desolate meaning "to abandon or ruin" came several decades after the noun was first attested in English. Usages of both desolate and desolation have closely paralleled each other as they decreased from relative peaks in the middle of the 1800s. Today, more people search for desolation on Google, but it's used less in literature.
Somebody recently requested the etymology of the name for Reddit, a social media platform and eighth most visited site in the United States. Now, I can tell you personally, it's very difficult to hold a conversation with an active user, because whenever you bring up a cool fact they tell you that they "already read it on Reddit". Well, that's exactly what the founders intended! When Steve Huffman and Alexis Ohanian created the website in 2004, they intentionally named it for this exact conversation to take place. Apparently, as one might have read on Reddit, there is a curious coincidence with the Latin word render, which meant "to submit for approval", an action that is arguably done on the website. Searches of "Reddit" in Google have been increasing about linearly since 2010, and are projected to rise even more as the forums get more popular. So now you can say that you read that off of Reddit.
The first attestation of the word dungeon was in the 1400s, but there were a whole lot of variations in Middle English: it was also recorded as taking the forms dungeoun, dungoun, dungun, and dongoun, among others. All of these words either meant "tower", "keep", or had our modern definition of "dungeon". The reason all these incongruences existed was because dungeon is an inherently incongruent word. The truth is, it's an amalgam of the French word donjon, meaning "keep" (the main fortified tower of a castle), and the Old English word dung, meaning "prison". Together, they would make "castle prison" or "dungeon"- and this was a much-needed word at the time, so they were mashed together in every which way until we finally settled on a standard spelling. Dung is not the excretory dung you immediately think of; through Proto-Germanic, it comes from Proto-Indo-European deng, meaning "to cover". Donjon might have Frankish origins. If so, it would be from Proto-Germanic dungo, meaning "enclosed space", which ironically also hails from PIE deng, "to cover". So combining dung with donjon is just saying "cover cover", but that's what it is!
Our word stupid is over four and a half centuries old! It was borrowed, with the same definition, in 1540 from Middle French stupide, and not long before that, stupide came from the Latin word stupidus. This carried somewhat different connotations: it meant something more along the lines of "amazed". You were confounded, bedazzled, beyond words. Something was so awesome that it made you stupid, or, in this case, stupidus. In verb form, this was stupere, which meant "to be stunned" and is the source of the words stupefy, stupor, and stop. Likely through Proto-Hellenic, this is reconstructed as being a derivative of the Proto-Indo-European root stewp or stupe, meaning "to hit", as in you were "hit" into being stunned. Earlier, it might have been another violent action like "push" or "beat", but you get the idea. Usage of the word stupid has been increasing almost exponentially since the 1970s- probably coinciding with the exponential rate of human reproduction, ha.
Yesterday we covered the word stereotype, and how it used to be a form of printing. Well, in modern times, a stereotype is closely related to a cliche; Google even lists them as synonyms. While a stereotype has more to do with people and a cliche has more to do with phrases, they both deal with overused ideas. The similarities, however, do not stop at definition, for cliche also referred to stereotype printing- in this case, it was the sound the machine made when the mold struck the metal. It came to mean "overused expression" because of the repetitive output of ideas, just like with stereotype. The etymology beyond that is really quite simple: cliche is from the French verb clicher, which meant "to click" (because the sound was like a clicking). This is onomatopoeic of the machinated sound, just like click is imitative for English speakers, as well. Usage of the word cliche has been dropping since 2000 in favor of cliché with a diacritic, probably to make it sound more like the original French, but, for the record, both are equally okay to use.
The word stereotype was borrowed in 1798 from a French word spelled the same way and with the same definition- but it's not the definition you think. At the time, stereotype referred to a type of metal plate cast from a mold that was used to print things, instead of using individual letters like was customary before that. This process would create identical or near-identical copies of pages that were then assembled into books or newspapers. However, a metaphorical shift soon took place, and by 1850, the word stereotype was applied to any kind of situation where a set of ideas is repeated, metonymically bringing us from the printing press to the archetypes inside the books themselves. Stereo- is from Ancient Greek stereos, meaning "solid" (this in turn is from Proto-Indo-European ster, meaning "stiff") and type traces to typos, meaning "impression" (reconstructed as deriving from PIE tew). So a stereotype is a "solid impression", which brings to mind the process of printing in general.
Somebody recently requested the word Pastafarian, which merits an explanation. The term refers to members of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, a satirical religion started to protest the involvement of church in state. Pastafarianism is a whimsical portmanteau coined that combined a central theme of the belief system, pasta, with the name for people of another religion- Rastafarians. But where does the name for the Rastafari religion come from? It's named after the Ethiopian emperor Haile Selassie, who Rastafarians saw as the Second Coming of Christ; Ras Tafari was a title he earned meaning "Head Dread". In the Amharic language, Ras literally meant "head" but was figuratively conferred to princes and chiefs, as they were the "heads" of state. Tafari was a personal name given to people who were feared or respected, best translating as "dread". The application of "dread" would persist into the word "dreadlocks", which were used by Rastafarians to describe fear of God. That just added a whole lot of depth to a spaghetti monster.
It almost feels like the words prequel and sequel were coined at the same time. Likewise, it seems like prequel has been around as a word forever. Both of these are incorrect misconceptions; prequel was actually coined in 1973 and patterned off the pre-existing word sequel, which had been around since the 1400s. It's mind-boggling to me that we didn't have a word for it before then. Sequel derives from Middle French sequelle, from Latin sequella, from the verb sequor, meaning "to follow". This, through Proto-Italic sekwor, can be reconstructed as coming from the Proto-Indo-European root sek, also "to follow". So se- was never a prefix, but part of the word, and the insertion of pre- mistakenly assumed that it was one. Pre- comes from Latin prae, "before", which is from Proto-Indo-European preh, meaning "before". So a prequel is "before following". Sequel is still used a lot more, but only because there are more prequels out there. It only took a few years for prequel to catch on as a normal word.
Crosshairs are thin wires or lines serving as focusing tools on gun sights, but did you know that the etymology of the name is in fact quite literal? The story traces back to seventeenth century, when the noted polymath Robert Hooke crossed two hairs on the lens of a telescope to make the view more precise. By 1755, crosshair was adopted to describe this, for obvious reasons, and the word in reference to gun scopes was first coined in 1785. Eventually, the actual crossed hairs were phased out for built-in or computer-projected markings, but the word remained, hinting at the more rudimentary origins. Something very interesting in the history of the word is that usage jumped an enormous eightfold between the years 1980 and 2000, according to Google NGrams. There are no explanations for this online, but I'm guessing that it has something to do with the increasing prevalence of crosshairs in popular culture, particularly due to recent video games and action movies. Other words for crosshair include reticle, reticule, graticule, and, metonymically, sight and scope work too.
The word charisma today is seen either as a score in D&D or the ability to charm others, depending on your audience and circumstance. But neither of these interpretations match that of the original definition when the word was borrowed into the English language in 1875: charisma used to refer to a power or characteristic specifically given to someone from God. By the 1930s this evolved into a meaning of "the ability to lead", which was slightly broadened later into "personal charm" across the board. Ultimately, the word is a Latinized variation of Greek kharisma, which meant "gift of grace". This in turn boils down into kharis, "grace". Now, the origin of this isn't a hundred percent certain, but etymologists believe that it's related to the Ancient Greek verb khairein, which meant "to be happy". If true, we can trace kharis thruough Proto-Hellenic to the Proto-Indo-European reconstruction ger, "to yearn for".
When the word academy was brought into the English language in the middle 1400s, it referred to only one school, specifically, and was not the broad term we use today. In French it was known as the Academie, in Latin as academia, and in Ancient Greek as Akademia: all of these terms referred to the building where the great philosopher Plato taught, famously located in an olive grove dedicated to the goddess Athena. The Akademia got its name from a person! Apparently there was this guy called Akademos who saved the city of Athens from war and received a tract of land in gratitude- a tract of land where Athena's grove and the Academy would be built. It's interesting how fast the word evolved after it was loaned into English; by 1540 it referred to institutions of education, and by 1560 it could be anywhere where something was learned.
The word absurd was borrowed in the 1550s from Middle French absurde, which had the same definition as we know today. As we go back to Latin absurdus, however, the semantics of it shift to mean "out of tune". What's the connection? Two plausible theories exist. It could be a figurative connection, implying that something is "out of harmony" with reality or reason, or it could have something to do with hearing loss, and the bridge definition is more along the lines of "unheard of". Both make sensel the latter is reinforced a bit more by the root in absurdus, surdus, which meant "deaf" or "mute". The prefix ab- just modifies it slightly; it meant "away" or "out" and comes from the Proto-Indo-European reconstruction hepo, which could be "off" or "away". Surdus may be reconstructed back to another PIE root, swer, which in this case meant "ringing", because of how ringing could be associated with deafness.
The word defecate was borrowed into the English language in the 1570s, and didn't necessarily have to do with excretion. The original definition was "to purify" (as in, when you defecate, you're purifying your body), and this comes from Latin defaecare, which had the same meaning. This is equivalent to de-, meaning "from", and the root faex, or "impurity" (so a purity comes from impurities). De-, which was sort of a catch-all prefix also meaning "down", "off", and "concerning", comes from a similar Proto-Indo-European root having some of those definitions, as well as "to". Faex (which is the direct etymon of feces, the pluralization of the word which was borrowed in the 1400s) has an intriguingly unknown history; it's proved very difficult to reconstruct or trace back. Faex populi is a phrase referring to the lowest classes of society and feculent means "full of impurities"; both of these terms are related through faex.
One interesting linguistic incongruity I've noticed is the phrase a whole nother, as in it's a whole nother level or in similar situations. When we speak, this rolls off the tongue perfectly, but we never consider how weird the word nother looks when written down. Then again, a whole another somehow seems worse. Some people compromise by writing whole 'nother, but that implies that it's replacing whole another, which really is grammatically incorrect. So what gives? Well, first of all, nother is correct, despite what even some grammar Nazis might tell you. The phrase came about through the process of tmesis, wherein a word is inserted into another word (such as in un-freakin'-believable!). So instead of another, people started saying a-whole-nother, and finally a whole nother. Hopefully that explains it satisfactorily. Another, meanwhile, is an interesting word all by itself, because it's just a merger of the phrase an other!
Pachyderm is a term used to describe all those grey, thick-skinned giant mammals you usually see at the zoo, chiefly the rhinoceros, hippopotamus, and elephant. That quality of having thick skin is going to be important in a moment, so pay attention. We got the word in 1838 from French pachyderme, where it was used as a biological term to classify the animals. This in turn was taken from Greek pakhydermos, which translates to "thick-skinned", which makes sense for the aforementioned reason. Pakhydermos is a portmanteau of pakhys, meaning "large", and derma, that root pertaining to skin that we all recognize from the word dermatologist. Pakhys is reconstructed as coming from the Proto-Indo-European root beng, which could carry connotations of either "thick" or "fat". Derma, meanwhile, came from PIE der, which meant "to split", a definition that was connected to "skin" by an intermediate translation of "flay".
Uremia is a rather nasty condition characterized by high contents of urea in your blood. The name for it was borrowed in 1857 from a Latinized form of the Ancient Greek root words, those being ouron, meaning "urine", and haima, meaning "blood" (so the meaning is "urine blood", and that makes a lot of sense, considering the nature of the disease). Probably through Proto-Hellenic, ouron traces to Proto-Indo-European, but which root? It could be ur, meaning "urine", hwers, meaning "to rain", or wehr, meaning "liquid". Overall, though, this doesn't matter, because it's thought that all of those reconstructions are related somehow. Going back to haima (also the first element in words like hemoglobin and hemhorrhoid), it also is a little bit uncertain in etymology, but linguists think it may hail from Proto-Indo-European sai, which referred to any kind of thick liquid. Usage of uremia in literature has been dramatically decreasing since a local maximum in the 1980s and a high in the 1910s.
I've always noticed an orthographic similarity between the Spanish word uvas, meaning "grapes", and the English word uvula, meaning "that dangly thing in the back of your mouth". Turns out this is no coincidence! In the 1300s CE, uvula was borrowed from the Latin word uvola, meaning "small bunch of grapes", because of an apparent similarity between the physical characteristics of the fruit and what the uvula actually looks like. Uvola is a diminutive of the earlier word uva, which referred to a singular grape and is the direct etymon of the aforementioned Spanish word, and its Italian and Portuguese cognates. There are two theories after this: uva could be from the Proto-Indo-European reconstruction weg, meaning "wet", or another PIE root, og, which meant "berry". Usage of the word uvula in literature was seven times more frequent around 1800 than today, but Spanish uva has been relatively constant in that time.
Turbulent has had quite the turbulent etymology! It was borrowed into English in the early fourteen hundreds, and referred more to people being disorderly than anything more abstract. It had the same spelling and definition in Middle French, but as Latin turbulentus it could mean anything from "stormy" to "confused"- describing a state of unrest in general. Here we can eliminate the suffix -ulentus, meaning "full of", which leaves us with the root turba, which could mean "turbulent" or "crowd". Although it's uncertain, turba could be from the Ancient Greek word turbe, still meaning "turmoil". This would be reconstructed as deriving from the Proto-Indo-European root stwer, meaning "to rotate" because something rotating is in turmoil). Usage of both the words turbulent and turbulence has been decreasing since a peak around the year 1800- I suppose even that is turbulent.
Fun fact: before the Protestant Reformation, the words Catholic and Christian were essentially synonyms, and the capitalization to Catholic wasn't added until they needed a way to differentiate themselves from the other branches. Catholic comes from Old French catholique, which comes from catholicus, which comes from Ancient Greek katholikos. Going from katholikos to present day, the definition was consistently the same, but that's where we experience a split. Katholikos also meant "universal" in Ancient Greek; it sort of makes sense, when you consider the inclusivity of everything in their belief system. We can break this down into the words kata, meaning "about", and holos, meaning "whole" (so according, to the Greeks, a universe is "about the whole"). Kata might be from Proto-Indo-European kom, meaning "beside", and holos is reconstructed as deriving from a PIE root sounding like solh and meaning "whole" as well.
The word software gets more interesting the more you think about it. There's clearly nothing soft about it, but that's because it was modeled off the pre-existing word hardware when developers in the early 1960s needed a word for the programs and operating systems they would install on their computers. Hardware as a word dates all the way back to 1789, but it didn't refer to computer bits until 1947. Before that, it only referred to practical odds and ends- the stuff you would find in a hardware store. Ware in these cases is a relatively less-used term for "manufactured good" and the same element as in warehouses and plain old wares. It comes from Old English waru, which meant something like that as well but originally carried the definition of "protection", because the manufactured goods were protected in the custody of the producer. Before that, as Proto-Germanic waraz, it was "cautious", and as Proto-Indo-European wer, it meant "to watch out for", similarly. Hard- never changed definition as it came from Old English heard, Proto-Germanic hardu, and PIE kar. Soft- in Middle and Old English was softe. In Proto-Germanic it was samftijaz, meaning "smooth", and in PIE it was sem, "whole".
The word proxy was borrowed in the early 1400s from Anglo-Norman procuracie, which meant "the office of the procurator", a procurator being a lawyer representing others (and that's why proxy means "something that represents something else"). In between that time, it obviously underwent quite a bit of alteration, taking on forms like prokecye and proccy before settling on the current word. Now, back to procuracie! It comes from the Old French verb procurare, which meant "take care of". In Latin, this had the same spelling and definition, but here we can break it down into its roots: pro meant "on behalf of" and curere was "care for". Pro- is from Proto-Indo-European per, which we've already seen tons of times as meaning "before". Curere, meanwhile, came to us (through the Latin noun cura) from the Proto-Indo-European reconstruction keys, which meant "to heed". It seems that the IT term proxy server was coined sometime in the mid-1980s.
Polka has a surprisingly contested word origin. We know that it was first written down in English in 1844, but we don't know whether that was borrowed from French or German. We know that, either way, the word derives from Czech polka, which referred to the dance, but we aren't a hundred percent sure where that came from. The most plausible explanation is that it traces to Polak, the demonym used to describe Polish people, because they were the people who came up with the tradition. This would be from Proto-Slavic poljaninak, which meant "field dweller", ultimately with roots in Proto-Indo-European pleh, or "flat" (because fields are flat). The second possibility, which still seems pretty credible, is that polka comes from the Czech word pulka, meaning "half" (ostensibly in reference to the short half-steps found in polka). Pulka would also have Proto-Slavic and then PIE reconstructions.
Hello! I'm Adam Aleksic, a rising 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.