A mandolin can be a type of kitchen utensil used for slicing, or a lute-like musical instrument. The former definition came from the latter; there are some myths about it being named after a woman called Mandy, but it's more likely from the similarity of the wrist motion or the taut strings. The name for the instrument was borrowed in the early eighteenth century from French mandoline and Italian mandolino. That's a diminutive of the earlier word mandola, which describes a similar instrument with lower pitches than the mandolin we know today. Going even further back, the word for that comes from Late Latin pandura and Ancient Greek pandoura, referring to a type of three-stringed lute. Pandoura has uncertain origins: some linguists suggest a pre-Greek origin, and others identify possible cognates in Armenian and Georgian, which would make it foreign.
Today, the word overt refers to something done in a transparent manner, but in Middle English, it had more literal definitions of "open" or "uncovered". The adjective is borrowed from Middle French ouvert - which is still extant in Modern French as meaning "open" - and that comes from Old French uvert and Latin aperire, a verb for "open" that is also the source of words like overture, aperture, and aperitif. Finally, that derives from Proto-Italic hepo and the Proto-Indo-European reconstruction hwer, meaning "to cover" or "shut" (this turned into its antonym through a connotation of "uncover". Descendants include discover, curfew, garage, warrant, guarantee, and more). According to Google NGrams, usage of the word overt peaked in 1974 and has been on a steady decline since then.
The word agony was first used in English in a late fourteenth-century translation of the Bible by theologian John Wycliffe, with the spelling agonye. It seems that Wycliffe borrowed the word directly from Latin agonia, which had the same definition. That comes from an Ancient Greek noun also sounding like agonia but meaning "struggle" or "competition" (the connection was that agony was considered a kind of mental struggle). The root in agonia is agon, meaning "competition" (also the etymon of protagonist and antagonist) and ultimately deriving from the Proto-Indo-European root ag, "to draw out" or "move". Usage of the word agony in literature over time has been steadily declining since a peak in the late 1860s.
The word sanguine means "optimistic" and the word sanguinary means "involving a lot of bloodshed". How could these possibly be related? It traces to the idea of bodily humors - in the olden days, people believed that an excess of blood resulted in a cheery disposition. Going further back, both words were borrowed at some point during the fourteenth century from the Latin noun sanguinarius, meaning "of or pertaining to blood". Through Proto-Italic, that ultimately derives from the Proto-Indo-European reconstruction kreue, which referred to blood outside the body (the PIE speakers distinguished between whether it was on the interior or exterior). In heraldry, the word sanguine can also refer to a type of blood-red tincture used in flags like Latvia's.
The Cupertino Effect is that phenomenon when a spell-checker mistakenly replaces a correct word that's not in its dictionary with a different word. The name for the phrase stems from a weird quirk in old spellcheckers that didn't recognize the unhyphenated version of the word co-operation. Whenever people typed cooperation, instead of "correcting" it to co-operation, the machines changed it to Cupertino, causing a lot of funny mistakes in diplomatic papers - according to the Oxford University Press, there are dozens of documents from the UN, NATO, and other international organizations accidentally using the word Cupertino. Similar to this is the so-called Scunthorpe problem, which is when normal words are blocked by obscenity filters (this is named after the English town of Scunthorpe, which has been censored from the Internet multiple times because of the expletive contained in its name).
Castrametation is a noun referring to the act of laying out a military camp. The word was first used by English naturalist Robert Plot in his 1686 Natural History of Staffordshire, in reference to Roman military strategy. It's a combination of the Latin words castra, meaning "military encampment", and metari, "to measure off". Castra (which is the source of the -cester and -chester suffix in many place names) is the plural form of the noun castrum, meaning "castle". That's thought to derive from Proto-Italic kes ("to cut") and may be related to castrare, the etymon of "castrate". Metari, meanwhile, is from Proto-Germanic metana and Proto-Indo-European med, also "measure". That composes words like accommodate, meditate, medicate, empty, modest, and others.
A friend of mine recently asked me why people with non-medical degrees are called doctors, and that led me down an interesting rabbit hole. The term, which has been around since 1387, originally meant "expert" in general, and the connotation of "medical expert" only began to be common in the sixteenth century. As Old French doctour, it meant "teacher", especially in reference to religious teachers, and that traces to Latin doctor, also "teacher". The root of that is the verb docere, meaning "to teach". Finally, that derives from the Proto-Italic reconstruction dokeo, from Proto-Indo-European dek, "to take". The verb to doctor meaning "falsify" emerged in 1774 on the notion of repairing something like a doctor, and usage of the word doctor in literature has been steadily increasing over time.
To me, the word chauvinism is nearly synonymous with sexism, but it can refer to prejudiced support for one's group of any type. In the past, this specifically had to do with extreme patriotism bordering on the absurd (sort of like jingoism). The term is named after Nicolas Chauvin of Rochefort, a probably fictitious French veteran who is credited as an actor in some very idolatric vaudevilles about Napoleon and the First Republic. He became a bit of a joke in France, and that's how the definition emerged. Chauvin's surname is a French version of Latin Calvinus, which derives from the noun calvus, meaning "bald". That, through Proto-Italic kalwos, ultimately comes from Proto-Indo-European klewo, also "bald". Use of the word chauvinism in literature peaked in the early 1970s and has been declining since.
The word ACAB seems to have taken the Internet by storm. It was Urban Dictionary's top trending definition on June 2, Google searches for it have been exponentially increasing since the George Floyd protests began, and as I'm writing this, there's an average of roughly five tweets every minute tagged #ACAB. The acronym stands for "all cops are bastards", and it emerged in English prisons in the 1970s. Inmates would scratch it on walls or get it tattooed across their knuckles, and the term soon became popular on the outside through punk bands and its use in riots. ACAB got so bad that several European countries made the term illegal, so some people took to stylizing it as 1312, corresponding to the letters' places in the alphabet. Recently, I've noticed a lot more people using it with lowercase letters, sometimes as an adjective (e.g. "John is a pretty acab person") or a noun ("John supports acab"). It'll be interesting to see how it linguistically develops further.
Today, the word stoic or stoical primarily serves as an adjective describing someone who does not exhibit a lot of emotion. That definition is from the late sixteenth century; before that, the term exclusively referred to the capital-s Stoic school of philosophy, which teaches that you should not become emotional over things that you can't directly control. Stoicism was almost named Zenonism after its founder Zeno of Citium, but the Stoics didn't want to give the impression that anyone, even Zeno, was infallible, so they instead named the philosophy after the Stoa Poikile, the Athenian hall where he taught. This literally translates to "painted corridor", because the building was covered with murals depicting the Greek victory at the Battle of Marathon. The stoa part of that, which could also mean "porch" or "colonnade", traces to the Proto-Indo-European word for "stand", sta.
A narwhal is a kind of whale native to the Arctic circle that's well known for having a horn-like large tusk protruding from its face. The word comes either from Dutch narwal or Norwegian narhval, but ultimately traces to the Old Norse word nahvalr, which meant "corpse whale". Some people back then thought that the pale white color of the mammals resembled that of cadavers, hence the name. Nahvalr is composed of Old Norse na, meaning "corpse" (from Proto-Germanic nawiz and Proto-Indo-European nehu, also "corpse") and the noun hvalr, meaning "whale" (through Proto-Germanic hwalaz, this derives from the Proto-Indo-European root kalos, which described a specific kind of catfish). After narwhals became an internet meme in 2009, Google searches for them spiked, peaking in 2015.
The city of Atlanta has undergone a lot of name changes. It was originally called Terminus because it was the site of the end (or terminus) of the Western and Atlantic railroad line. For a brief period in the 1930s, it was known as Thrasherville, after pioneer and general store owner John Thrasher, although that was never the official name. In 1842, when it was clear that the city had become far more than a train station, some residents called for it to be named Lumpkin, after Wilson Lumpkin, the governor of Georgia at the time. Lumpkin declined, asking that they name it after his daughter Martha Atalanta instead, so they called it Marthasville. Just over two years later, when the Georgia railroad was completed, the main engineer asked that it be renamed Atlanta-Pacifica, and Lumpkin compromised to Atlanta, since his daughter's middle name was Atalanta anyway.
When I think of the word pavement, I imagine an asphalt-covered road, but obviously that's a newer invention. In the olden times, the term could refer to any sort of hard covering on the ground, especially tiled floors. Through Old French, it can be traced to Latin pavimentum, meaning "floor" or "firm surface". That derives from the verb pavire, "to beat" - the connection was that, to be firm, the floors had to be beaten down with tools. Pavire ultimately comes from the Proto-Indo-European reconstruction paw, which meant "strike" and is also the root of words as diverse as amputate, reputation, berate, dispute, and pit. According to Google NGrams, usage of the word pavement has been dramatically decreasing since a high in 1913, and Google Trends shows declining searches as well.
When the word protest was first used in English around 1560, it meant "formal declaration" (this is the same sense as in the noun Protestant, which described people who formally declared independence from the Catholic Church). Through Old French protester, it traces to Latin protestari, also meaning "publicly declare" but having a more literal translation of "testify before". That's because it's composed of the prefix pro-, meaning "before" or "in front of" in this context (from Proto-Indo-European per, "forward"), and the root testis, meaning "witness" (also the etymon of testify, testament, and testicle; from the Proto-Indo-European word for "three", tris). The idea was that when someone protested, they were standing before others and declaring their thoughts. Throughout the centuries, the term developed a more oppositional connotation, and during the civil rights movement it finally evolved into its modern meaning of "mass demonstration".
Orioles are yellow-and-black songbirds native to Afro-Eurasia. Their name, through Old French, comes from the Latin word aureolus, meaning "golden", reflecting their vibrant yellow plumage. There is a similar-looking type of blackbird called the Baltimore Oriole in North America, but it is not genetically related to the original kind of oriole. It was also not named after the city of Baltimore as one would expect, but rather after the English nobleman Cecil Calvert, 2nd Baron Baltimore, since his coat of arms resembled the coloring of the New World birds. Aureolus is a diminutive of aureum, or "gold", and that, by way of Proto-Italic auzom, derives from the Proto-Indo-European word for "gold", aus. At some point, the Baltimore Oriole was made the official bird of Maryland, and several local baseball teams began using the name, including the modern MLB team and the New York Yankees until they moved base and changed their name to what it is today.
The word edit as a noun meaning "correction" is only about fifty years old! It came from the verb, which is a late eighteenth century back-formation from editor, which originally referred to the person in charge of printing pre-prepared works (and only later came to be associated with the proofreading process). That's a 1649 borrowing from Latin editus, meaning "brought forth", the past participle of the verb edere (which should not be confused with its homonym meaning "eat"). Finally, that can be broken up into the prefix ex- ("out"; traces to Proto-Indo-European eghs) and another verb, dare, meaning "to give" (from Proto-Indo-European do, also "give"). According to Google NGrams, usage frequency of the words edit, editor, and edition has remained relatively constant since the seventeenth century.
The word wretch used to be kind of a catch-all insult, and was used surprisingly frequently (about seven times more than today, at its height in 1795). It's been around for as long as English has, and throughout the years has been attested as wrecche, wrechhe, wrecch, wrech, wroche, wrich, wryche, wratche, and more. The word was borrowed from the Proto-Germanic root wrakjon, which meant "one who is pursued". In this context, it refers to exiles and ruffians who are driven out of communities, but in other languages, that developed differently. For example, in German, wrakjon became the word Recke, meaning "hero", since heroes are pursued by the forces of evil - that's a pretty fascinating contrast! Finally, wrakjon derives from Proto-Indo-European wreg, meaning "track" or "follow".
When the noun mission was borrowed into the English language in a 1513 theological text, it referred exclusively to God sending Jesus onto Earth. Around 1598, a new definition emerged, describing Jesuits who were sent to Europe, and a few decades later it was broadened to anyone being sent anywhere with a purpose. The word always had to do with sending, though, and that's because it derives from Latin missionem, meaning "sending". That's the fourth principal part of the verb for "send", mittere (also the source of words like emit, manumission, transmit, submit, admit, compromise, and missile, among others), and that ultimately derives from the Proto-Indo-European reconstruction meyth, meaning "to exchange". Usage of the word mission over time has been pretty constant since the 1800s.
When the word hobby was first borrowed into English around the turn of the fifteenth century, it meant "small horse"! This has a very interesting history. By 1689, the word got a new definition of hobby-horse, a term that's still in use to refer to those children's toys with stuffed horses' heads on sticks. The playthings were regarded to be very childish, so to hobbyhorse became a verb meaning "engage in a fanciful pursuit". Sometime in the early nineteenth century, the -horse part was dropped and the old definition of hobby grew archaic, leaving us with the current state of the word. Going backwards, hobby used to be spelled hobyn or hobin and was likely a proper name for a horse, which the Oxford English Dictionary suggest ultimately is some kind of diminutive for the name Robert or Robin.
The word horoscope is pretty cool because it's a classical borrowing from before the Norman Conquest. Through Old French, it traces to Latin horoscopus and Ancient Greek horoskopos, which still meant the same thing but can be more literally translated as "hour-watcher". That's because the first part, hora, meant "hour" or "season", and the second part, skopos, meant "one who watches". Hora, also the root of the English word "hour", eventually derives from Proto-Indo-European yeh, which could refer to many different types of time periods but is notable for being the etymon of "year". Skopos, meanwhile, was the nominative singular form of a noun derived from the verb skeptomai, "to observe"; that, through Proto-Hellenic, derives from Proto-Indo-European spek, with the same definition.
The word banshee was first used in the English language in a 1771 book about Scotland, where it was spelled benshi. For the next century or so, all kinds of spellings were attested, such as ben-shie and banshie, but by the late ninetenth century the form banshee was widely accepted. The word is a phonetic transcription of the Irish term bean sidhe, meaning "female elf" or, more literally, "woman of the fairy mound". Bean is from ben, which is from Proto-Celtic bena and Proto-Indo-European gwen, also meaning "woman" (and the root of words as diverse as queen and gynecology). Sidhe is from Proto-Celtic sidos, which could just mean "mound" but definitely still had connotations of fairies, and that derives from Proto-Indo-European sed, "to sit". Usage of the word banshee has been increasing since the 1980s.
Many websites claim that the phrase Black Friday, referring to the shopping bonanza after Thanksgiving, is so named because it's the day when the stores' ledgers go from in the red to in the black. This is a linguistic myth: the term actually became popularized by the Philadelphia Police Department in the 1960s, when they used the name to describe the shopping pandemonium in downtown stores. Here, "black" was used pejoratively (like how Black Tuesday and Black Thursday described the crashes in 1929), and the moniker was originally unpopular with retailers. However, they soon realized that it wasn't going anywhere, so they reinvented the term in the 1980s to have more positive connotations, using it in advertisements and creating the "red to black" myth.
Since the mid-aughts, the phrase on point has been a slang term meaning "perfect", essentially a synonym of on fleek. This definition was popularized by 1990s hip-hop, where it had more of a connotation of being "ready to go". Before that, it may have been influenced by several different historical usages: it can describe a soldier leading a military formation; in legal jargon, it can mean "relevant"; and (this was probably most impactful) in ballet, to balance on the points of your toes, or en pointe, is considered the perfect way to appear weightless. Through association with precision and improvement from all these sources, the modern definition eventually came to be. According to Google Trends, searches of "on point" peak every spring and autumn, and I'm not sure why. Maybe people hear it from other people while they're in school, and then search up the meaning? Interesting, no matter what.
The word punch meaning "to hit" comes from the Old French verb ponchonner, with the root ponchon, meaning "piercing weapon". That developed from Latin punctionem, which described pointed tools and was the past participle of pungere, "to pierce" (finally, pungere derives from Proto-Indo-European pewg, also "pierce"). Punch can, of course, also refer to a type of juice; I always assumed that it was related, but it turns out that's not the case. The word was borrowed in the early seventeenth century from the Hindi word for "five", panch, because when the original punch was introduced to sailors from the British East India Company, it was made with five ingredients (alcohol, water, lemon juice, sugar, and spice). That's traces to Proto-Indo-Iranian panca and Proto-Indo-European penkwe, both also "five".
Most people use chrysalises as the plural of chrysalis, but apparently the more etymologically correct version is chrysalides (although you're free to use whatever you want). The word was borrowed in 1658 from Latin, and the Latin word came from Ancient Greek khrysallis. The root of that is khrysos, meaning "gold" or "wealth"; the connection was that the pupae of many butterflies in the region were gold-colored. This is probably from a Semitic source, because of cognates in languages like Hebrew. Khyrsos also gave us the word chrysanthemum - anthemon meant "flower" in Ancient Greek (and comes from Proto-Indo-European hendos, meaning "bloom"). Literary frequency of both words has been about the same; fairly constant since the mid-twentieth century.
Adam Aleksic, a rising sophomore studying linguistics and government at Harvard University, has been described as the internet's sixth most famous etymologist. He also has disturbing interests in politics, vexillology, geography, board games, conlanging, and law.