Since the volcanically preserved city of Pompeii was rediscovered in 1748, people have been fascinated with the writing on the walls of the Roman settlement. They provide a unique snapshot into the era, from simple statements like "Gaius Pumidius Diphilus was here" to advertisements, epithets, doodles, and more. In 1851, the Italians assigned a term for those writings, graffito, which was a diminutive of their word for "scratch", graffio. The best translation is probably "scribbling". Twenty-something years later, people across Europe realized that they didn't have a word for modern crude vandalisms, so they pluralized graffito to graffiti and that became our word for surface scribblings of all kinds. Graffio eventually comes from Ancient Greek graphein, meaning "scratch" (present in words like graphite, diagram, and graphic), which is thought to trace to the Proto-Indo-European reconstruction gerbh, "to carve".
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.