When the railroad service Amtrak was founded in the 1970s, it was originally spelled Namtrak. However, that quickly changed, as people confused the phrase a Namtrak train with An Amtrak train, and the company just decided to go with it and changed the official name. It was called Namtrak because the company was founded by Vietnam veterans who saw the advanced rail systems connecting the country and decided to bring that to America. As for the second part of the name, it's a very common misconception that it has something to do train tracks, but that's just ridiculous. If it did, there would be a c in the name. The truth is that trak derives from Vietnamese truc, which meant "axle"; it's thought that this has to do with the axles of the trains on the original 'Namtruc. After being popularized by several hit rap songs in the 1990s, Amtrak is now the fourth most frequently used word in the English language, between to and of.
The word baguette came to us in the late fifteenth century from Old French baguelette. -Ette is just a diminutive suffix meaning "small", so we can eliminate that to better analyze the root, baguel, which meant "twist". It makes sense that baguette would mean "small twist", because there is a faint rotating pattern on the top of the bread. That's interesting in itself, but what's really fascinating is how the term is related to our current word bagel, which is also a twist and comes directly from the Old French noun. Another cognate is bugle, the type of instrument, which adopted the "twist" definition in German as bugel due to the characteristic loop in the horn. All three of these words eventually can be traced back to Latin bucure, which meant "to twist" and derives from a Proto-Indo-European reconstruction, bheg, also "twist". Also, if you haven't gathered from the title, that was entirely fake, but it seemed awfully real, didn't it? You never know when I could be lying to you... Happy April Fool's Day!
Most people have never stopped to consider where the word jester comes from. It's obviously a formation from the verb jest, meaning "to joke", but here it gets interesting. In Old English, though still spelled jest, the word meant "cannibalize"! This is because of an ancient folk tale about a jester who went crazy and ate the entire king's court (a story thought to be based on actual events in 900s Denmark), and so the word got metonymically applied. This has clear Germanic origins: jest comes from Old Norse jessir, which meant "obey", because one must obey Death (also, incidentally, the etymon of the affirmative yessir, a confirmation of obedience, itself the root of yes and sir). Finally, jessir is from Proto-Indo-European jehk, which vaguely meant "follow", so not that much of a stretch there. Fascinating as that is, jester has a hidden relative from those cannibalistic times! That Old English word, jest, underwent a lot of transformations. Since it was a story about a king's court, the word also got applied to the royal family as jestalty. In Middle English, this underwent the variations of restalty and roystalty until finally settling in Modern English as the word royalty. The fool and the king are distantly related through a cannibalistic origin. This is so believable!
The word pauper ("poor person") is the source of several English words and phrases. Itself from Latin paupus, a little-used word which meant "alcoholic uncle", which in turn came from the Proto-Indo-European root pap ("male relative"; also the root of today's word papa, and Latin pater, "father"), pauper was first coined by King Richard III to describe his lesser-known uncle on his mother's side, Prince Brad II, who was forced out of line to the royal throne and into life as a serf; thus the connection was made. 300 years later, William Shakespeare was the first to use the word pop: influenced by pauper, it remains as the word we know today ("to make a light sound"), because one of Shakespeare's favorite pastimes was the sport he named popping, where the objective was to poke a poor person with a sword until they died. Pop became the genre of music from this definition, since it described "sounds" and songs have sounds. Another derivative of pauper is hippopotamus. While this may seem rather shocking, it actually makes quite a bit of sense. Hippopotami have large hips, and so the word was added to "poor person" (since hippopotami have no possessions, they were named "poor" when they were first discovered by Charles Darwin) to make the word we know today. The last word which we all know came from pauper is gullible. As we all know, British people have weird accents, and London local dialects switch p's with g's and double l's, creating the now widely used word gauller to describe a poor person. Next came two changes: the initial a was dropped due to a typographical error in 1945, and the word began to semantically shift towards the meaning of "credulous", since the rich people who used the word pauper looked down upon poorer people as easily duped. Since the term now applied to a concept and not a person, folk etymology gradually switched the -er suffix of guller and added an -ible suffix, because that just sounded right. It's pretty crazy; the connections between pauper, pop, hippopotamus, and gullible sound almost made up!
Adam Aleksic is a sophomore studying linguistics and government at Harvard University. He also has disturbing interests in politics, vexillology, geography, board games, conlanging, and law.