I love the fact that I've been doing etymological research for long enough to know where this word came from before I even searched it. Capricorn was first used in English circa 1400 CE in Geoffrey Chaucer's A Treatise on the Astrolabe and was either taken from French capricorne or directly from Latin capricornus, a word that literally means "goat-horned". This makes sense if you consider the symbol for the zodiac. Capricornus combines two words: caper, which meant "goat" (and derives from the Proto-Indo-European reconstruction kapros, defined as "buck") and cornus, which we've seen in cornucopia and unicorn as having meant "horn" (this comes from PIE kerh, also "horn"). Usage of the word capricorn peaked in the mid-eighteenth century and has since been trending downwards.
The word pony was first attested in a 1659 Scottish diary as powny. Thereafter, it underwent some variation, taking on forms like ponie, powney, pownie, and poney before becoming standardized by 1900. All of it comes from French poulenet and Old French poulain, with the same definitions. However, as Latin pullanus, the word could refer to the young of any type of animal. Pullus, the earlier version of that, meant the same thing (and is also the etymon of pusillanimous and the game of pool, I'll have to explain those later), and it all derives from the reconstructed Proto-Indo-European root pelh, also with the same definition. Pony peaked in usage at the turn of the twentieth century and has recently experienced a bit of a resurgence in utilization in literature over time.
In 455 CE, King Genseric of the Vandals (a demonym most likely coming from a PIE word for "wind"), upset at the cancellation of a betrothal, led an army toward Rome, knocking down aqueducts along the way. By the time he got there, a mob had already overthrown the Roman emperor, and the Pope at the time convinced him to not destroy the city nor murder its inhabitants. All in all, the famed Sack of Rome wasn't nearly as bad as it could've been: they only stayed for a fortnight, and didn't do anything violently, although they did carry off some slaves and treasure and destroyed some monuments. Other sacks in history were far worse, but this one was amplified by Enlightenment poets who idealized Rome and portrayed the Vandals as the most egregious example of barbaric brutes and defacers of art. This idea was propagated throughout Europe, and by the 1660s, vandalism made its debut as a word in the English language, inextricably associating the Germanic tribe with destruction of property for the rest of time.
The word identity was first used in English by bishop and historian John Bale in 1545. Back then, he spelled it ydemptyte, but the word quickly evolved to idemptitie, identitie, and by the 1650s the term was widely written identity as we know it. Through Middle French, it all comes from the Latin neuter idem, meaning "the same". Idem is composed of the pronoun is, meaning "he" (and deriving from Proto-Indo-European ey, a third person pronoun), and im, an empathetic marker characteristic of the Proto-Italic language. Usage of the word identity peaked in 2003 and has recently started to slightly decline but today is utilized six times more than it was in 1940, probably due to increased importance placed on our identities in recent years. I was actually pretty surprised there's no connection to the word id, but there you go.
The word schadenfreude, meaning "pleasure derived from others' pain", suddenly became extremely popular after its use in a 1991 episode of The Simpsons and has been prominent in our vernacular ever since. The noun was in use since the 1850s, but a lot of the early attestations just provided it as an example of interesting German word - it wasn't seamlessly integrated into English text until the start of the twentieth century. In German, the word is a bit of an etymological oxymoron, coming from schaden, meaning "harm", and freude, meaning "joy". Schaden is from Old High German scado, or "damage". That, through Proto-Germanic skatho, came from Proto-Indo-European sket, with the same definition. Freude traces to Proto-Germanic frawaz, meaning "joy", which came from PIE prew, "to hop". What a cool word!
In 1279 CE, Dominican friar Laurentius Gallus wrote La Somme des Vices et des Vertus, a treatise on morality written in French. 61 years later, Benedictine monk Dan Michael of Norgate published a translation of that in the Kentish dialect. Michael's translation was quite poorly done, but it's historically significant to us because it was the first time the word innocent was used in the English language. Before that, in Old French it was inocent, and in Latin it was innocens, which literally meant "to not hurt". This is because the root is the verb nocere, meaning "to hurt", and that's modified by the prefix in-, which here means "not". Nocere, through Proto-Italic nokeo, comes from the Proto-Indo-European root nokeo ("disappear"), while in- is from PIE n, also "not".
The earliest attestation of the word zodiac is in 1390 CE from English poet John Gower's seminal epic Confessio Amantis, where he writes about twelve signs "compassed in the zodiaque". Here, Gower just borrowed an Old French word to use in his writing, and that came from Latin zodiacus, still with the same definition. Zodiacus is a shortening of the Ancient Greek phrase zodiakos kyklos, which literally translates to "circle of little animals", something that makes a lot of sense if you think about it. The zodiakos part of that is a diminutive of zoion, the word for "animal" in general (and where the zoo- part in zoology comes from). This, through Proto-Hellenic, finally traces to the Proto-Indo-European reconstruction geyh, "to live". Usage of the word zodiac through history peaked in the 1790s and has been relatively constant throughout the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.
Paisley patterns are traditionally associated with southern Asia, but the word paisley is named after a village in southwestern Scotland. In fact, it wasn't until relatively recently that the term had anything to do with the well-known design: originally, it referred exclusively to the famous shawls the village produced, and the definition wasn't extended until the nineteenth century when it became fashionable to print the Kashmiri teardrop-shaped motifs on those shawls. The Scottish village has a name literally meaning "church" in Scottish Gaelic; through Middle Irish baslec, it goes all the way back to Latin basilica, which we should recognize as an English word as well. Basilica traces to Ancient Greek basilikos, which meant "royal" and eventually traces to Proto-Hellenic gatileus, "chief".
There have been a lot of misconceptions about the etymology of the word Viking. Some linguists posited that it could've been a demonym for someone from the Viken region of Norway. Others proposed that it could be from an Old Norse unit for measurement, vika. There are even more theories I'm not listing, but the most widely accepted origin today goes back to the Old Norse word vikingr, which essentially had the same meaning as today. More literally, though, it meant "one who belongs to the fjords". This is because the root, vik, could mean "inlet" or "fjord", and the ending, -ingr, could mean "one who belongs" or "one who frequents". Vik, through Proto-Gremanic wiko, comes from Latin vicus and Proto-Indo-European weyk, meaning "village", and -ingr derives from Proto-Germanic ingo, which similarly modified words.
The word cougar was first attested in the English language in Irish writer Oliver Goldsmith's 1774 edition of An History of the Earth, and Animated Nature, in which he described it as "an animal of America, which is usually called the Red Tiger". Goldsmith took this word from the French, who described it as a couguar, and that was taken from Portuguese çućuarana, which is further thought to be from a Brazilian language. The prevailing theory is that it would derive from the Tupi word susuarana, which meant "false deer", but nobody's sure. After that complicated series of linguistic borrowings, cougar seeped into our vernacular with a new meaning of "older women who seek younger male romantic partners" around the year 2002 from Canadian slang, in allusion to the predatory behavior of the women.
At first glance, I thought marrow might be Latin, because it's medical terminology, but on further inspection, it definitely gave off Germanic vibes. The way the consonants formed around the vowels just sort of had an Old English ring to it... and I was right! There are attestations going back to before Old English, and as such, there was a lot of orthographic variation. Over time, spellings such as merg, mearh, mearg, meari, marwz, mergh, maree, merow, merch, marowe, maree, and eventually marrow emerged (in that order of attestation). All of this is reconstructed as coming from the Proto-Germanic root mazgaz, with the same definition, and that in turn is thought to derive from Proto-Indo-European mosgos, which could also mean "brain" and resulted in some Slavic cognates meaning "mind" (such as mozga in my home language of Serbian!) Since its first use in the late 1300s, the word marrow peaked in the 1990s and has been decreasing in usage since.
The verb baptize was first used in 1297 in a chronicle by historian Robert of Gloucester. Thereafter, it underwent a lot of variations in the English language, taking on forms such as baptise, baptyse, baptisen, baptysen, and many more. Baptism as a noun was a thing since the 1380s (and because of all those spellings, the s and the z remain in the words). It was all taken from Old French baptiser, which was taken from Latin baptizer, which was taken from Ancient Greek baptizein. Previously, the words all held the same definition, but baptizein could also refer to the dipping of items into water for irreligious purposes. It derives from a previous verb, baptein, which meant "to dip" and might trace to Proto-Indo-European gwabh, also "dip". Use of the word baptism peaked in the 1840s and has decreased sharply since our societies became more secular.
The word intern as a word meaning "trainee who works to get experience" wasn't put in place until 1924. Since 1827, however, a different definition of "assistant physician" existed, and was applied because the helpers did internal work for hospitals. That came from French interne, which had the same definition but could also mean "internal", and eventually traces to Latin internus, "within". The root there is inter, which could also mean "among", and, further back, it (through Proto-Italic) derives from Proto-Indo-European hen, meaning "in". Use of the word intern over time peaked in the 1970s and the turn of the century, but has recently been decreasing for some reason. Fun fact: intern has a lot of dead definitions, including "of the soul", "boarding school student", and "the domestic affairs of a country".
A good friend of mine just signed my high school year book joking that he should of won the chess club presidency. I've seen this grammatical mistake many times during my high school career - as an editor of my school newspaper, I had to correct dozens of these errors from bright, intelligent young reporters - and it seems to be pervading the writing style of the newer generations. This alteration, arising because could've, would've, and should've are pronounced exactly like could of, would of, and should of, is actually by no means a recent occurrence, first showing up all the way back in 1814. It was used in an 1854 letter by renowned writer Charlotte Brontë, and countless others through history. However, now it seems much more common than before, due partially to propagation by the Internet, and many years down the road that spelling could quite possibly take over as prescriptivist grammar Nazis die out and nobody's around to correct it anymore. It's actually a pretty curious snapshot into linguistic development in action, and fun to observe from a pragmatic perspective. The phonological reason for the f and v confusion is that both letters are labiodental frictatives, which means that the lower lip is raised to the upper front teeth and air is forced through the mouth to make the sounds. The only difference between the two is that pronunciation of v includes vibration of the vocal cords, but otherwise they're the only two consonants in that category, so they're easy to confuse. Clearly, the alteration won't be disappearing anytime soon.
The word prostitute was used as an adjective for about four decades before it became a noun, and as a verb about three decades before it became an adjective. It was first used in a 1530 translation by English court priest John Palsgrave, and rapidly spread from there as a more euphemistic word than terms like harlot or strumpet. The French word eventually traces to the Latin verb prostituere, which could mean "to prostitute" but had a more literal definition of "expose publicly". That's because the lexemes composing it, pro and statuere, mean "up front" and "stand", respectively. The implication is that sex workers solicit openly, but the word originally didn't even have to do with any of that. Pro did not change once from Proto-Indo-European, and statuere (the etymon of status) derives from PIE steh, "stand".
We're so used to having eleven main color categories - red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple, pink, brown, black, white, and grey - that we never stop to consider that other languages may not categorize color the same way we do. For example, Russian distinguishes between dark and light blue as two separate colors entirely, much as we do for pink and red. It can also reach the other extreme, as well: there are tribes in Papua New Guinea and South America that only have three words for color: black, white, and red. All other colors we categorize fall into those categories, with, for instance, yellow being a variation of white and brown being a shade of black. Even more fascinating is the particular order these hues show up in our languages: if a vernacular only has two color terms, then those colors are always black and white. If a third color is added, it is always red. After that, green and yellow always appear, followed by blue, brown, and then the others. It has to do with the way we perceive and decide to label our surroundings. Sometimes, there is no need to elaborate further than three general classifications, but for more specialized purposes, more words emerge to describe color. There's a plethora of hotly debated discourse on why this truly is the way it is, and it's definitely something to look into further, if you're interested. Here are some good YouTube videos on the topic:
Napalm was invented on Valentine's Day in 1942 in a classified Harvard weapons research laboratory. It was made out of aluminum salts from naphthenic and palmitic acids, and some scientist around that time combined the first parts of those words to give us the modern term. Naphthenic, meaning "pertaining to cycloalkanes", comes from Latin and Ancient Greek naphta (describing petroleum residue) and possibly Old Persian beyond that; it's thought to derive from the word naft, meaning "moist". Palmitic, describing the acid, contains the Latin root palma, meaning "palm of the hand". Through Proto-Italic, that likely comes from a Proto-Indo-European word with a similar pronunciation and definition. Usage of the word peaked in 1970 and is now appears in literature half as often as when it did then.
The word patent was first used in English in Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, when it denoted a type of open document conferring authority (that's why patently means "openly"). This was taken from Anglo-French phrase lettre patent, meaning "open letter". The relevant part of that comes from Latin patens, a participle for openness, and that in turn is from patere, which could mean "to be open" or "to lie open". Through Proto-Italic, patere is reconstructed as deriving from the Proto-Indo-European root peth, meaning "to fly". The phrase patent law was first used in 1817, and the definition of "sole right to produce something" is from 1558. According to Google NGrams, usage of the word patent in literature over time has remained constant since a spike in the 1750s, but Google Trends has shown it as decreasing over the last 15 years.
There's a body of water in the Massachusetts town of Webster called Lake Chaubunagungamaug, which is often referred to by its longer variant, Chargoggagoggmanchauggagoggchaubuna-gungamaugg. This has an interesting etymology; the shorter of the monikers comes from Nipmuc (one of the Algonquian languages) and means something like "lake divided by islands", although an exact translation is difficult. People often like using the longer name, though, because it's quirkier to do so and Webster actually has gotten a bit of tourism out of marketing the lengthy name. However, it's a sham. The extended version is actually meaningless and was coined in 1921 by local newspaper editor Laurence J. Daly, who made it as a joke, only to have a bunch of people start seriously using it. A bunch of disinterested parties to the issue just call it Webster's Lake at this point, but the whole kerfuffle is still pretty neat.
Apparently you can pronounce turmeric with and without the first r and still be correct. It's only recently that the spelling's been standardized, too: in the past, it took on forms like tarmaluk, tamanick, tamaret, tormarith, turmerocke, and more. When the word was first used in English in a 1538 book about herbs, it was spelled tormeryke, and that is thought to come from the Old French term terre merite, which meant "deserving earth" (although that's somewhat debated; it could also be Arabic). Terre comes from Latin terra, which is a relatively common root and further derives from Proto-Indo-European ters, meaning "dry". Merite is from Latin meritus, which meant "earned" and is the source of our word merit. That in turn traces to PIE mer, "to assign". Usage of the word turmeric has been pretty constant since the eighteenth century.
The word police was first used around the year 1440 by author Stephen Scrope in a translation of a French book by Christine de Pizan, The Epistle of Othea. In it, a knight is described as policing others with great counsel and wisdom. That word was in French since the 1250s, when it was borrowed from the Latin word politia, which meant "civil administration". It's not too much of a semantic stretch to connect that to Ancient Greek polis ("city"), and that's exactly what happened. Polis was a pretty broad word, as it could refer to anything from a people-group to a fortified city-state, and was around in the language for quite a while. If we go back far enough, etymologists reconstruct it to Proto-Hellenic ptolis and Proto-Indo-European tpolh, which could mean "citadel" or "hill". Since its introduction into the English language, usage of the word police has been on the rise, and currently composes 0.0075% of all words used in literature.
Pegasus is quite a prolific word. It's been the name of a type of fish since 1842, it's been used in heraldry to refer to winged horses since 1542, the first reference of a constellation being named Pegasus was in 1449, and for many eons before that the word's been associated with the Pegasus - the figure from Greek mythology, the original winged horse who was the child of Poseidon and Medusa. This word, taken from Ancient Greek Pegasos by way of Latin, has a surprisingly obscure etymology. It's thought that it could come from the noun pege, meaning "spring" (and this would make sense because Pegasus was born near a spring in the stories), which would be from a Pre-Greek source. However, that's uncertain, and nobody really knows for sure: it could also be from the Luwan word pihassas, meaning "lightning" (which would check out because Pegasus was Zeus' bearer of lightning bolts) and coming from Hittite. That's also hotly disputed, though; it's unlikely we'll find out for sure.
Anacrusis is a technical term in poetry and music wherein one syllable or note is unstressed at the beginning of a verse or bar line, respectively. The word was first used in an 1833 issue of The Edinburgh Review when describing the theory of iambic pentameter. This was a loanword from Latin, and the Latin word was a transliteration of an Ancient Greek word, anakrousis. This meant "a pushing back" or "pushing up", presumably because the transition to stressed sounds with the next syllable/note will be like pushing upwards. Ana- here means "back" and comes from the Proto-Indo-European root an, meaning "on" or "above". Meanwhile, the root of the word, krouein, meant "to strike" and comes from PIE kreue, also "strike" or "push". Usage of anacrusis peaked in the 1960s and has been trending downward since.
Liquidate is such an interesting word. It can mean "convert into cash", "pay off", or "murder", and all of those definitions come from an original meaning of "reduce to order" (whether it be an account or a life), first attested around 1575 by politician James Balfour in a legal context. He took it from Latin liquidare, which meant "to melt" but could also have a more metaphorical denotation of "clarify", which is what was extended to English. You might have guessed where this is going: the root in liquidare is liquidus, which meant "liquid" and indeed is the etymon of our word liquid (through Old French liquide). That traces further back to Proto-Italic wlikweo, which derives from the Proto-Indo-European reconstruction wleyk, meaning "to run" or "to flow". Usage of liquidate peaked in World War II (when the "assassinate meaning was at its greatest use) and has declined since.
The word atone was first used as a noun in 1559, but it existed as a verb for four years before that, first showing up in a translation by writer William Waterman with a definition of "be unified" or "in harmony", the idea being that once you atoned for your sins, you could be at one with the universe and God, which is where the word comes from. At one as a phrase signifying that state of concord has been around since the thirteenth century, and was increasingly combined after Waterman did it first. Through Old English and Proto-Germanic, at is derived from the Proto-Indo-European reconstruction hed, which could also mean "near". One, by way of Old English an and Proto-Germanic ainaz, traces to PIE oynos, still with the same meaning.
Adam Aleksic, an incoming freshman at Harvard University, has been described as the internet's sixth most famous etymologist. He has disturbing interests in linguistics, vexillology, geography, board games, limericks, and law, and he loves writing about himself in the third person.
The Etymology Nerd