The word pumpernickel has a fascinating etymology on so many levels. Firstly, it’s rare to find Germanic words in English that start with a p; because of Grimm’s law, they normally begin with an f. But that’s the boring part. The fun part is that it goes back to two Westphalian words, pumper, which meant “fart”, and Nickel, which was a proper noun that meant “goblin” or “rascal”. Yes, the bagel you’ve taken for granted in the past is really naught but the gas of gremlins. Originally it was meant as an insult, because people at first didn’t like the new kind of bread (but the name stuck even once it caught on). Anyway, pumper has an uncertain origin, but Nickel (which is also the origin of the word for our 5 cent piece; see my elements infographic) traces to the earlier name Nikolaus, which probably goes back to Greek Nike, a name that meant “victory”. So even that changed a lot. Both words definitely are from Proto-Indo-European. I still can't get over that mind-blowing origin!
Hello! I'm Adam Aleksic, a senior 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.