I'm very rarely surprised by etymologies these days, but learning about shrapnel was a blast. Turns out that the word for "projectile fragment" was named after a person, Henry Shrapnel, who invented a type of exploding shell in the early 1800s while serving as a lieutenant in the British army. It is thought that the Shrapnel surname comes from French Charbonnel after the a and r letters were switched around somehow. Charbonbel is a diminutive of Old French charbon, a word for "coal", which comes from Latin carbonem, with the same meaning. Carbonem is reconstructed as having derived from the Proto-Indo-European root ker, or "to burn", the connection obviously being that you burn coal (Carbonem is also the etymon of the element carbon). Interestingly, usage over time for the word "shrapnel" had more than a fourfold jump during World War I, which makes sense, considering the unparalleled devastation of the trench warfare. Apart from that, it's been pretty constant.
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.