Coronavirus has been all over the news recently, but what does the word mean? The origin is well documented: the term was first used in a 1968 edition of Nature magazine, where a team of eight microbiologists suggested that the family of diseases "be called the coronaviruses, to recall the characteristic appearance [sc. recalling the solar corona] by which these viruses are identified". Corona is the Latin word for "crown" (we can recognize this in words like coronation, coronary, and Corona beer); through Ancient Greek korone, that ultimately traces to Proto-Indo-European sker, meaning "turn" or "bend". The official name for the disease, Covid-19, is an abbreviation for Coronavirus Disease 2019, the year when the pandemic started, and the official name for the pathogen itself is SARS-CoV-2, for Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2.
There have been a lot of different spellings of the word store throughout history. Early forms included stoore, stor, stoer, istor, and story, and right up until the turn of the seventeenth century, there were still people spelling it as stoar. The first attestation we have in English is from a 1264 collection of political songs, where it was used as a verb (the noun came three decades later). The word was borrowed from the Anglo-Normans after they invaded and traces to Old French estorer, which meant "to construct". Estorer is from the Latin verb instaurare, meaning "establish" or "renew". That's composed of the prefix in- ("in", from Proto-Indo-European en), and the root staurare, which derives from PIE steh, "to stand up"). Related: I now have a store where I'm selling infographic prints! Go check it out!
The city of Albuquerque was founded in 1706 as a Spanish colonial outpost. It was named after the viceroy of Mexico at the time, the Duque de Alburquerque; the first r was eventually lost due to confusion with Portuguese general Alfonso d'Albuquerque. Eventually, it doesn't matter, though, because both names come from a town on the border of Portugal and Spain called Alburquerque. That means "white oak"; it's composed of Latin albus, meaning "white" (from Proto-Indo-European albho, same definition) and quercus, meaning "oak" (through Proto-Italic kwerkus, from the Proto-Indo-European reconstruction prkeu, also "oak"). This is especially cool when you consider that the name Arizona may come from a Basque word for "good oaks" - the Southwest seems to have a lot of etymological oaks.
Our noun honor comes from the eleventh-century word onur, which had more of a definition of "glory" or "fame". That, through Old French onor, traces to Latin honos, also meaning "position" and "reputation". The word-initial letter h was originally lost because people weren't pronouncing it (much like today), but when classical languages started making a comeback in the fifteenth century, people started reattaching it to look fancier. Honos has an unknown origin, but probably derives from a similar Proto-Indo-European root sounding like gon. You surely have noticed that most non-American countries spell honor as honour; that's because early Noah Webster dictionaries preferred the shorter word while British lexicographer Samuel Johnson wrote the u in his dictionaries, and the US and UK just stuck with those forms, respectively.
The word hobnob was first used in the 1760s as a verb meaning "to alternate toasting each other" while drinking. About a hundred years later, this morphed into the definition of "to socialize" that we know and use today. The word is a combination of the phrase hob and nob (sometimes hob or nob), which can sort of be translated as "give and take", describing how people alternate between buying rounds of drinks. That traces to the dialectal term hab nab, "to have and have not". Hab is a rare word deriving from Old English habban, meaning "possess" (the etymon of have); that, through Proto-Germanic habjana, is reconstructed to Proto-Indo-European kehp, "to seize". Nab is from nabban, which is basically habban but just negated with the prefix ne-, meaning "not".
Starting in the 1960s, the phrase shoe-in started to be used as a misspelling of shoo-in, and usage has exponentially increased since then. Maybe someday we'll see the former replace the latter; right now, shoo-in is only used three times more than shoe-in, and that gap is decreasing, so that's interesting to observe. Shoo-in actually has a really fascinating history: it traces to rigged horse races in the 1930s, when some paid-off jockeys would drop back to let a chosen horse win. The idea was that the competitions were so obviously fixed that it almost resembled the other contestants shooing the chosen horse toward the finish line. That gradually grew to have less of a cheating connotation and be more associated with things that seem guaranteed in general.
When the word illusion was borrowed in the mid-fourteenth century from Old French, it meant "scorning" or "derision". Over time, this grew to be less negative and more associated with sensory confusion. The word comes from Latin illusionem, which meant "mocking" or "jeering". That traces to illudere, a verb for "mock" that literally meant "to play with". It contains the prefix in-, meaning "at" or "upon", and the main part is ludere, "to play". This also shows up in words like prelude, ludicrous, and collusion - but those are stories for another time. Ludere comes from the Proto-Indo-European reconstruction leyd, also meaning "to play". Since it was popularized in the early eighteenth century, illusion has been increasing in usage, with peaking in the year 1971.
The word harass was taken as a loanword from French in the early 1600s. For a while, it was spelled with two letter rs, but by the eighteenth century almost everybody was just using one. It peaked in usage in literature in 1807 and has been decreasing since. The French verb it was taken from, harasser, could mean "to repeatedly attack", "to tire out", or "to devastate". Since it wasn't a very common word, that has a bit of an obscure origin, but etymologists think it's from harer, which meant "to set a dog upon". Harer, also thought to influence the word harry ("repeatedly attack"), is from Old Frankish hara, which meant "over here" (as in calling a dog somewhere), and that, through Proto-Germanic hi, derives from the Proto-Indo-European reconstruction ko, a demonstrative pronoun meaning "this".
Syphilis first emerged in the 1490s during the French invasion of Italy. At that point, every country had named it after their enemies: the French called it the "Italian disease" and the Italians called it the "French disease", the Ottomans called it the "Christian disease", the Dutch called it the "Spanish disease", and the Russians called it the "Polish disease". The word syphilis itself was first coined forty years later in a poem by doctor Girolamo Fracastoro, who wrote about a shepherd named Syphilus who was sent by the gods to spread the illness. This quickly spread and became the most common name for it. We're not sure where Fracastoro got Syphilus from; it's thought to either be from Sipylus, a grandson of Tantalus in Roman mythology, or a Latinization of a greek word meaning "pig lover".
The concept of a semester was originally used in German universities, and English borrowed the word for them in the year 1826. It originally comes from Latin semestris, which meant "of six months" (the German system actually is six months long, although most American colleges now use about five). Semestris is composed of two other Latin words: sex, meaning "six", and mensis, meaning "month". This is very similar to the word trimester, which literally means "three months" (extant in pregnancy terminology and another academic term type that is not necessarily three months long anymore). Ultimately, sex comes from the Proto-Indo-European root sweks, which also meant "six", and mensis, through a Proto-Indo-European word meaning "moon", likely traces to the reconstruction meh, "to measure".
The word republic was first used by Anglican bishop John Hooper in his 1548 work Declaration of the Ten Holy Commandments. There, he spelled it republick, and that spelling prevailed for a while (along with republique and lesser-used forms like republict, repoblik, and reipublick) until republic became the normal way of writing in the eighteenth century. Via Middle French, the word was borrowed from Latin respublica, which referred more to "the state" in general than a particular type of government. This was originally two words: res, meaning "entity" or "affair", and publia, the feminine form of an adjective meaning "public" (so a republic is an "entity of the public"). Earlier on, res meant "property", and that comes from Proto-Indo-European rehis, meaning "wealth". Publia, meanwhile, derives from Proto-Italic poplos, meaning "army".
Have you ever noticed that, when you're typing something into a document and your paragraph exceeds the page length, two lines drop down to the next page? That's because typographers consider it less readable when there is just one line dangling on a page, due to there being too much white space. The technical terms for those single lines on the top or bottom of a page are widow and orphan, respectively (a mnemonic used to remember this is an orphan has no past, a widow has no future). Some publishers use one of these terms for both instances, or do the opposite, as there is no real consensus. The Oxford English Dictionary shows orphan as being around since the 1980s, and widow being used for almost a century before that, starting as widdy and ultimately having an unknown origin.
The word incognito was borrowed in the mid-seventeenth century from Italian, where it meant "unknown". The same was true in Latin as incognitus, which was composed of the prefix in-, meaning "not", and cognitus, the past participle of cognoscere, "to get to know" (therefore something incognito was "not known"). Cognoscere also has a prefix, con-, that meant "with", which leaves the root gnoscere, "to know" (also the etymon of noble, connoisseur, and cognition). In- traces to Proto-Indo-European en (also "not"), con- to PIE kom, meaning "along", and gnoscere to the Proto-Indo-European root gno, also "know" (this is the source of gnome, diagnosis, ignorant, and a lot of other cool words). Usage of the word incognito in literature over time has been trending slightly downward, but is generally pretty constant.
When the word bureau was borrowed in the late seventeenth century from French, it meant "writing desk". Because these types of desks were very common in offices, the word also got metonymically applied to them, and that's how the definition "government office" and the word bureaucracy came about. Those desks also had drawers, which is why North Americans additionally use bureau to mean "chest of drawers". Going backwards in time, it gets even more interesting: bureau comes from the Old French word burel, which meant "woolen cloth" because they were frequently draped on top of writing desks as a cover. That's a diminutive of bure, meaning "dark brown cloth", and ultimately derives from either Latin burrus ("red") or burra, which referred to a type of wool garment.
In its early days, the word portfolio was sometimes spelled port-folio or portefolio, but when it was first attested in a 1713 collection of stories, it was Porto Folio. This hints at the noun's origin in Italian portafoglio, which meant "case for carrying papers" much like one of the definitions today. That's composed of the verb portare, or "to carry", and the word foglio, "sheet" - the connection should be obvious. Portare, through Latin, ultimately derives from the Proto-Indo-European root per, meaning "traverse", and foglio traces to the Latin word for "leaf", folium (this is the etymon of foliage, frond, foil, and other such words). That in turn is from Proto-Indo-European bleh, which could be defined as "blossom" or "flower". So, if you go really far back, a portfolio is a "blossom traverse" - as if "carry sheet" wasn't cool enough already.
The United States Senate was specifically named after the Roman Senate (senatus) because it was designed to be similar in many regards. The word senate had existed in English for over five hundred centuries before that, though, mostly in reference to Rome but also meaning "legislative body" in general. The Latin term senatus literally meant "council of elders", because it was intended to be composed of retired magistrates who tended to be on the older side. Senatus stems from senex, which just meant "elderly" or "old man"; that, through Proto-Italic, traces to the Proto-Indo-European root sen, meaning "old". This makes senate a cognate of words like seneschal, senior, and senile. Usage of the word senate in literature has been strongly declining over time, but peaks in searches during every election cycle.
Today, the verb marshal serves as either a verb meaning "muster troops" or as a noun referring to a specific high-ranking military officer. The former came from the latter, and that traces to an earlier meaning of "court officer". As Old French mareschal, it meant "commander of a household", and as the even earlier Medieval Latin word mariscalcus, the title was given to the commander of a lord's stables. This traces to Old High German marahscalc, which meant "horse servant". The first part of that is basically the Proto-Germanic word for "horse", marhaz (also the etymon of mare; from Proto-Indo-European markos) and the second bit derives from PIE kelh, "to cleave". The given name Marshall is from the noun marshal and usage of the word has steadily been declining over time.
When the word session was first borrowed into the English language in the fifteenth century, it meant "a place for sitting". This definition quickly died out, but the word soon came to refer to a gathering of people for legislative or business matters particularly. Not long after, this got applied to everything else, and our the modern senses of the term (from recording music to meetings of the court) were born. Through Old French, it comes from Latin sessionem, which meant "the act of sitting". Sessionem traces to the verb sedere, or "to sit", and that (by way of Proto-Italic) in turn derives from Proto-Indo-European sed, also "sit". After becoming popularized in the mid-sixteenth century, usage of the word session stagnated over time, today making up about 0.00256% of all written English.
Psephology is the subfield of political science concerned with the scientific study of elections. The term was coined by Oxford historian R.B. McCallum, who was really annoyed at people saying electionology (he didn't like how it combined Greek and Latin components) and wanted something to replace it. For this, McCallum turned to the Ancient Greek word psephizein, which meant "to vote". This in turn comes from psephos, a noun meaning "pebble"; the connection is that the Greeks voted by using pebbles as ballots. Psephos comes from psao, a verb for "to crumble", and that might trace to a Proto-Indo-European root sounding like bas and meaning something similar. Usage of the word psephology in literature over time peaked in the year 1969 and has been decreasing since then.
The word cringe has been around for a while. The first modern use of the noun was in the 1570s and, as a verb, in the thirteenth century, but it had a lot of different definitions and spellings before that. Throughout Middle and Old English, it was attested as crinchen, crenchen, crengen, crencan, crencgan, crengan, and crenge, and meant "bend", "bow", "turn", and "cause to fall". It traces to the Proto-Germanic reconstruction kenk, or "curl up", and ultimately derives from Proto-Indo-European greng, "to turn". Recently, cringe has been adopted in meme culture to indicate disgust toward something, usually a fandom of some sort. This shift began in 2013, and has resulted in both renewed usage of the word in literature over time and increased Google search frequency for it.
Somebody recently requested that I cover the word Klobmentum, which I thought was an interesting project. If you haven't been following the Democratic presidential primary, the term has been adopted by news outlets from the New York Times to channel television stations around the country to refer to Amy Klobuchar's unexpectedly good showings in New Hampshire and Iowa, and the anticipated surge associated with them. It's part of a wider trend among Klobuchar supporters to make portmanteaus such as Klobusurge and Klobucharmy, and (according to Twitter analytics) it emerged in late January and really took off in usage following her delegate win in Iowa. The parsing is curious, and almost seems linguistically unnatural, but, as other linguists noted online, perhaps Klo- alone could not work as a morpheme. It will be entertaining to watch this word develop further as the primary season progresses!
The Baader-Meinhof phenomenon is an illusion where, once you learn about the existence of something, you can't stop seeing it around (for example, this keeps happening to me with people saying based off of instead of based on, after I found out that was a common mistake). Now, looking at the name of the phenomenon, one would naturally assume that it's after the pair of psychologists or linguists who first documented it, but it actually traces to the Baader Meinhof Group, a left-wing West German terrorist organization active in the 1970s-90s. The connection is from a 1994 comment on the message board of the St. Paul Pioneer Press where the person noted that they heard two references to the gang in the last 24 hours and dubbed it a phenomenon. After that, a lot of other people started using the phrase, and it became an actual psychological term.
In investing, the phrase bull market refers to when the economy doing well and stocks are going well, and bear market describes when it is performing poorly. Curious, I did some investigating, and it turns out the bear was first. According to Merriam-Webster, the term traces to an expression from the late nineteenth century that went something like "don't sell the bear's skin before you catch the bear" (basically a quirkier "don't count your chickens before they're hatched"). Over time, bear emerged to refer to people who bet against the economy, especially with options. Bull came about not long after based on the idea of a bear swipes down and a bull charges upwards to attack, and that could be metaphorically applied to the stock market going down or up, respectively. Usages of both expressions over time peaked in the 1930s and early 2000s.
The word butcher was first used in the year 1325, when it was spelled buccher. After that, it was attested as bocher, buchier, buchere, bochsar, bochour, bochyer, and bowcher; butcher was considered normal by the start of the seventeenth century. It comes from Anglo-French boucher, which had the same definition, and Old French bochier, which meant "slaughterer of goats" particularly. -Ier is an occupational suffix; the root is the word bouc, or "goat". That is either a descendant or cognate of Latin buccus, and most likely traces to the Frankish word bukk, still with the same meaning. Finally, it can ultimately be traced through Proto-Germanic bukkaz to Proto-Indo-European bug, or "ram" (making it a cognate of English buck). The pejorative use of butcher emerged in the early sixteenth century.
The word incarnation was first used in the 1297 Chronicle of Robert of Gloucester, when it was spelled incarnacion. Other forms since then have included incarnacioun, incarnacione, and incarnacyon; incarnation was standardized by the end of the sixteenth century, after which it has steadily trended upwards in usage. The term comes from Old French incarnacion, which referred specifically to the Incarnation of Jesus (all future definitions evolved from that). That traces to Latin incarnare, meaning "to make into flesh" - a parallel may be drawn to the phrase "in the flesh". Here we may separate the prefix in- ("in") and find the root caro, meaning "flesh". Through Proto-Italic, that derives from the Proto-Indo-European reconstruction ker, or "army". Don't even ask.
Adam Aleksic, a freshman 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, and law.