John Oliver's recent episode on Mount Everest taught me a fascinating new term - a capitonym is a word that changes its meaning when capitalized. For example, March refers to the month while a march is a brisk walk and Hamlet is a renowned play while a hamlet is a small village. The best capitonyms can also change pronunciation based on the first letter, like Polish and polish. The etymology of capitonym is fairly obvious: the root is the word capital, and then there's the suffix -onym. We call uppercase letters capital because it's a synonym for important, and the word capital comes from Latin caput, meaning "head" (the head being the most important part of the body). That's from the Proto-Indo-European reconstruction kaput, with the same definition. -Onym is a useful suffix to know in linguistics because it shows up a lot, meaning "name" or "word". That's from Ancient Greek onoma, which derives from PIE hnomn, still "name".
Hello! I'm Adam Aleksic, a sophomore studying government and linguistics at Harvard University, where I co-founded the Harvard Undergraduate Linguistics Society. In addition to etymology, I also really enjoy politics, vexillology, geography, board games, conlanging, and law.