What, exactly, is the yule in yuletide? Or the tide, for that matter? Both are Germanic. Yule was actually the pagan holiday which was the precursor to Christmas, generally occurring around December. In Old English, it was spelled geol or geola and purportedly comes from the Proto-Germanic word jehwla, meaning "festivity". This in turn is from Proto-Indo-European yekuh, "to play". Meanwhile, tide is the same one that rolls in twice a day. That's just it: the tide occurs at a specific time, so in Old English it was tid, meaning "tide" or "season". This, through Proto-Germanic tidiz, came from the Proto-Indo-European root di, meaning "time", so yuletide technically means "play-time". Search interest. Google search interest for the word yuletide is most popular in Ghana, always peaks sharply every December, and pales in comparison to the word Christmas. Oddly, usage of Yuletide has been increasing since the 1980s.
The capital of Tajikistan (the greatest former SSR) is Dushanbe, a proper noun with a fascinating etymology. In the Tajik language, dushanbe means "Monday". This is because the village was right on the Silk Road and would have a huge and opulent bazaar every Monday, so that key facet became its name. Interestingly, dushanbe is a portmanteau of two Tajik words, do, meaning "two", and Shanbe, "Saturday". Monday was two days after Saturday, so the city named after Monday is in fact a couple days premature. Both components either are from or have cognates in Persian, which would make this Indo-Iranian and thus probably from Proto-Indo-European. Fun fact: from 1921 to 1961, Dushanbe went under the name Stalinabad, the time when it underwent its greatest expansion from the village to the glorious capital it is today.
The word dollar has quite the unexpected origin. The US dollar was inspired by the Spanish dollar (which came before both the pesesta and the Euro), a stable and highly valued currency around the time America formed; the founding fathers wanted to associate American money with something else that was valuable. This is an Anglicization of a German word which sounded something like thaler or taler, also meaning "dollar", and this is where things get crazy. Thaler is a shortening of Joachimsthaler, the name of a German town where much silver was minted. This in turn was likely named after some St. Joachim or other, but we're not too sure. Going back to the pesesta briefly alluded to before, it was abbreviated ps back in the day, when the two letters combined to create the dollar sign ($) that we know today. Spanish seems to have made a surprisingly large impact on our economy.
A leopard is literally a "lion-panther". In ancient times, the animal was thought to be a hybrid of the species, a middle ground, and so the people back then named it thus. As we move backwards, in Middle English, it underwent alterations such as lubard, lybard, libbard, and lebard (these variations we've seen so much are due to decentralization and lack of standards back then), from a similar myriad of Old French phonemic jumbles. Ironically, the Latin root, lepardus, is closer to the modern word than most of the changes. That in turn is from Ancient Greek lepardos, and since they were the ones who named the animal, they got to combine their words leon, "lion", and pardos, "panther". Both words are unknown in origin, with leon possibly not even having IE roots, and pardos potentially having a cognate in Sanskrit pradukh, meaning "tiger". Lions and tigers and leopards, oh my!
In linguistics, philology is the cross-referencing of texts, usually to reconstruct words or understand something about olden times. The etymology of philology was therefore discovered through philology, so let's dive in. This is not your usual -ology word; it's a portmanteau of philos, meaning "loving", and logos, meaning "words". A philologist loves words. Like a lexophile or logophile, but cooler, since it's an actual occupation. Philos has an obscure origin, but possibly comes from a Proto-Indo-European root sounding like bhil and meaning "good". Meanwhile, logos (the same as the rhetorical appeal) is from lego, meaning "say", from the reconstructed Proto-Indo-European root leg, meaning "to collect" (as in to get your speech together, apparently). Guess how that root was reconstructed? Philology!
The word squirrel is probably most interesting because of the sheer heterography in its past. In Middle English, it altered between squyrelle and squirel, and before that, it was spelled esquirel in Anglo-Norman, from French escurel. Note how both the q and the double rs were dropped by here. In Latin, it underwent variations such as scuriolus and scurius, and through sciurus, it ultimately derives from the Ancient Greek term skiourous, which still meant "squirrel" figuratively, but literally meant "shadow-tailed". This is because it is a portmanteau of two words: skia, meaning "shadow", and oura, meaning "tail". The former is from Proto-Indo-European skeh, also meaning "shadow", and the latter is from Proto-Indo-European ors, meaning "backside" or "buttock", even. Not too much semantic change in that word, but it's notable nonetheless; all words matter!
Today, let's have a brief, philologically unserious discussion on the origins of two Reconstruction-era terms, carpetbagger and scalawag. A carpetbagger was a person from the North who came down to the South to profit or make political gains after the Civil War, and the origin of that word is obviously a combination of carpet and bag, denoting the quality of these exploiters to travel literally with their carpets carrying all their other belongings, like a bag. Meanwhile, the word scalawag meant a Southerner who supported Republican (Northern) policymaking during the aftermath of the Civil War. This comes from a previous meaning of "worthless animal" (obviously it was pejorative), which might be named after the village of Scalloway in the Shetland islands, famed for its miniature horses. Today, both words have evolved, so this offers us an interesting snapshot into contemporary etymology: carpetbagger is a term for a politician who seeks election where they're not affiliated, and a scalawag means "naughty person", showing the pervading Confederate jargon employed today.
Hitler would have been greatly offended if you called him a Nazi. Though embraced by extreme alt-righters today, the fascists of WWII Germany generally avoided the term, which was a colloquialism for "dunce" in southern Germany before the war. The word got applied to them when fleeing anti-fascist Germans cleverly abbreviated Nationalsozialist, an already shortened version of the party name. This spread to the countries they migrated to as a general term to encompass Hitler's group (who would've preferred NSDAP). The pejorative colloquialism Nazi was a nickname for Ignatz, a common name much like "John", with a country-bumpkin connotation of stupidity and ignorance. This in turn likely derives from Latin Ignatius, a Biblical name with possible origins in Ancient Greek, or Latin, or something. Honestly, etymologists aren't completely sure. But we are positive about the whole Nazi-insult thing. Believe me.
John Montagu, the Fourth Earl of Sandwich, had a particular affinity for gambling. His addiction was so bad that he refused to get up for meals, ordering his servants to make him his favorite snack, pieces of meat between two slices of bread. Since Montagu was pretty well-known, the sandwich got named after him, and, in an unrelated occurrence, James Cook also named the Sandwich islands in the South Atlantic after Montagu as well. Sandwich was a town in Kent, but before that it was a surname, literally meaning "sand settlement". The first part of the name, sand, comes from Proto-Indo-European bhes (a verb with the definition "to rub"), through Proto-Germanic sandam (also "sand"). The later part of the name, -wich, is pretty common in England, as we can see with place names like Norwich and Greenwich. That's because it meant "settlement". By way of Germanic alterations like wic and wik, it derives from Latin vicus and ultimately traces to Proto-Indo-European weyks, still meaning something like "village".
The word encyclopedia in Latin was spelled encyclopaedia, which was defined as a "general education book", because that's what it was. This is from the Greek phrase enkyklios paideia, which literally meant "circular education" ("circle" kind of meaning a "field of study" here); it was changed to one word by a clerical error. Enkyklos, the "circular" aspect of the term, is from kuklos, "circle", which in turn derives from a Proto-Indo-European root that generally had a kw- sound, like kwel, kwele, or kweklos, and meant "wheel", certainly a type of circle. The en- was just a modifying prefix. Paideia, the latter part of the aforementioned phrase, is the "education" part of it all, from pais, meaning "child", the type of person going through education. Finally, this is from Proto-Indo-European pehw, meaning "smallness". Now, if we harken back to yesterday's post, which explained how wiki actually meant "quick", the website Wikipedia actually means "quick education".
Today, the word wiki is used as a prefix for any site where users collaborate to create content, but as early as 1995 it was an obscure word in Hawaii. This is all because the first person to create a wiki site (the WikiWikiWeb), Ward Cunningham, once visited Hawaii. There, he traveled on the Wiki Wiki Shuttle at Honolulu airport, and learned that wiki wiki actually means "quick" in Hawaiian. This stuck with him years later when he created his site, and now it's stuck with us. So where does wiki wiki come from? The duplication is only there for emphasis; one wiki by itself already means "quick", but it is common in several language families to repeat a word instead of using an adjective like "very". Wiki is likely from a Proto-Polynesian word sounding like witi, but most native terms are poorly researched and it's only speculation from there on.
Cynics might scoff, but cynic used to mean "dog". In Middle English, the word cynic was spelled cynick, cynike, and cynicke, but in Latin it was cynicus (which had a hard initial c, but people messed up the translation), so all those alterations were kind of unnecessary. This comes from Ancient Greek kynikos, which described the Cynics, an actual group of people led by the famed Diogenes. They wore their name with pride, but it was originally an insult, as kynikos literally meant "dog-like", an appellation applied by skeptics of the Cynics who considered them equal to dogs, as many of the sect members lived on the streets and had harsh, aggressive manners, comparable to those of canines. This is from the earlier Ancient Greek word kuon, which just meant "dog", which in turn is reconstructed from the Proto-Indo-European root kwo, also "dog"
Have you ever wondered why the thirteenth element is spelled aluminum in America but aluminium (extra i) England? It's not because Americans modified it to sound less British (as some would be inclined to think); quite the opposite, in fact. Aluminum was coined in 1812 by the British scientist Sir Humphrey Davy. This was readily accepted by the American populace, however British newspaper editors modified it to seem more in line with all the other elements. Ironically, the proper suffix is -en, because that's what it was in alumen, the word that inspired Humphrey's choice. It meant "bitter salt", and was probably extended to the substance name because of the ionic bonds Aluminum creates. Alumen possibly derives from a Proto-Indo-European root sounding like helud and meaning something along the lines of "bitter" as well.
Biblically speaking, a nimrod is a "great hunter". In Genesis 10, he's described as a "mighty hunter before the Lord", and this definition still prevails in some other English-speaking countries. However, in America, a nimrod is an "idiot", a "maladroit". How did this happen? It can all be attributed to Bugs Bunny! In one cartoon, he called Elmer Fudd (the lisping man who's perpetually trying to shoot him) a "nimrod". This was meant ironically at first; Bugs was joking that Fudd was actually a skilled hunter. However, people watching the show in America who weren't well versed in the Bible took it as an obscure insult, and began using it as such. Thus a great shift began; but where does the Biblical word nimrod come from? The truth is that there is no good answers. It has cognates in Aramaic and Arabic, so it's presumably of Proto-Semitic origin, but that's all we can glean.
The word vestigial means a "functionless remnant", and the word vestige means "a remnant" of something rare or extinct, so it's not surprising in the least that the former word derives from the latter. Vestige, which was borrowed into English at the beginning of the seventeenth century from French, traces to the Latin word vestigium, which literally meant "a footprint" but had figurative connotations of a trace left somewhere, which is how we got the word. This does not have a fully understood origin, per se; however, etymologists theorize that it either derives from the Proto-Indo-European root steygh, meaning "to walk", or from PIE wers, which literally meant "drag along the ground" (and would have come through Latin verro, "to sweep"). Ironically, both the words vestige and vestigial have been decreasing dramatically in use since the 1950s, and all we see of them now is a mere vestige.
Most of us who have heard of it only know the bezoar as a tiny antidote stone from Harry Potter. Well, it's an actual thing! An intestinal blockage occurring in the stomachs of goats, and in special cases, humans, a bezoar was believed by alchemists in the Middle Ages to possess curative properties, which is definitely where J.K. Rowling got the idea from. Because of this, it (probably through French) comes from the Arabic word for "antidote", bazahr. This derives from Proto-Indo-European pad-zahr, literally "counter-poison", with pad meaning "against" or "counter" and zahr meaning "poison". The former is from Old Persian pa, which meant "protect" and comes from PIE peh, with the same meaning. The second is from Old Iranian jathra, which meant "to kill" (not that big of a transition), from PIE gwhen, "to strike" or still "kill". So a bezoar means "protecting [from a] kill", and J.K. Rowling knows her Middle Ages superstitions!
In the post about how "pudding" used to mean "sausage", the Latin word botulus was discussed, but it wasn't done enough justice. It comes from Proto-Indo-European gwet, a root which meant "a swelling" and described how sausages tend to bulge, but that's not the fun part. You may have noticed that the word sounds like botulism, a condition with swelling in it (thus the connection) and often leading to paralysis. Botulism is caused by the botulinum toxin, also named because of the swelling it causes. However, in 1987, two scientists accidentally discovered that the botulinum toxin softens your face and diminishes wrinkles. When the rights to this were bought by Allergan, they cleverly combined the words botulinum and toxin to make botox, a staple of the cosmetics industry. So, something we inject in ourselves is actually something that is poisonous, and that which is poisonous is actually just a hot dog. Bon Appétit!
The word cul-de-sac just means "a dead-end road" to us today, but it means "bottom of the sack" in the original French. This will not come as a surprise to many, but the crazy connection we'll make later will be. First, let's get sac out of the way. Also an English word describing biological bags, it comes (the former through Old French sac, with the same meaning, and the the latter through Old English sacc, "cloth bag") from the Latin word saccus, from Ancient Greek sakkos (meaning "bag" still), which may have Semitic or Phoenician origins. De, from Latin de, just expresses belonging. It gets interesting with the first word, cul. It comes from the older French word cul, which meant "backside". This kind of makes sense with the "end" or "bottom" meaning. However, what you weren't expecting is that cul is also the etymon of tutu, the skirt ballerinas wear. Eventually it was modified to cucu, and the cs got switched to ts. The correlation is clear: a tutu is worn over the backside. Anyway, French cul comes from Latin culus, a rude word for "posterior", which can be reconstructed as deriving from the Proto-Indo-European zero-grade kuhl, "to cover".
Between 1796 and 1798, English doctor and scientist Edward Jenner noted that people who tended to cows were less likely to contract "cowpox", a brand of smallpox from cattle. From this, the theory of vaccination arose and impacted our culture forevermore. But where did the word vaccination come from? No less than vaccinus, the Latin word for "of or pertaining to cows", a term that derives from vacca (just "cow") and is the etymon of words like Spanish vaca, Romanian vaca, and French vache. While this is officially of uncertain origin, it quite possibly goes back to a Proto-Indo-European word sounding like wokeh and also meaning "cow". So, just because the initial vaccine was based on an observation concerning bovines, we know regularly inject cows in ourselves to ward off diseases. What has society come to?
Almost half of Michigan's county names are completely made up. This is due to the work of Henry Schoolcraft, a geographer in the early- to mid-1800s. When he was off surveying the areas that would eventually become counties, he got to name them, and he got pretty creative. Schoolcraft particularly enjoyed combining elements from several languages. The county names Alcona, Algona, Allegan, Alpena, Arenac, Iosco, Kalkaska, Oscoda, and Tuscola were all splicings of Latin, Arabic, and/or local languages to make it sound as if the area has a rich native history (which it did, but Schoolcraft overdid it). Not to mention Schoolcraft county itself and Leelanau county, after his wife's pen name. So, right now, we have at least ten county names in Michigan which are total gibberish. I feel like he did this only to confuse future etymologists.
The word poppycock doesn't have anything to do with plants or chickens at all. Today meaning "nonsense" and kind of archaic, the word comes to us from Dutch pappekak, which literally meant "doll excrement", a portmanteau of pappe, "food", and kak, "dung". Pappe, which described softer foods given to youngsters and (a cousin to the English word pap, also meaning "baby's food") is connected to a "doll" meaning through the connection of an infant. There are several languages which use sort of a papa sound to describe babies eating, and it's suspective that this is imitative of child-directed speech. Meanwhile, kak came from the Latin word cacere, a verb for "excretion", which in turn derives from the reconstructed Proto-Indo-European root kakka, bluntly meaning "to poop". Anyway, accusing someone of being poppycock is actually the equivalent of telling them to eat their own dung.
The word tarnation was coined in 1784 in New England, but its use in the Northeast was quickly superseded by that of the South. This is sort of a mutt of words. It’s a bowdlerizing alteration of the word darnation, but it’s sort of influenced by the word eternal, kind of emphasizing eternal darnation, the latter word of which is a euphemism for damnation, so this is sort of a double euphemism. The –ation part is just a suffix, but damn, through French, comes to us from Latin damnum, which meant "loss", as in loss of salvation. Through Proto-Italic dapno, this is from Proto-Indo-European dehp, meaning "to sacrifice" or still "lose". Eternity isn't quite the etymon in tarnation, only affecting its development through influence, so I'll save that for a future post. As a word, tarnation was used most frequently in the 1800s, but there's been a recent increasing period due to its whimsical usage on the Internet.
We all know a buttonhole as the gap in a coat through which you're supposed to push a button. Its etymology seems simple, right? Button and hole? Well, it is simple, but that's incorrect. Buttonhole actually used to be the spelling, and it meant "a looped string through which a button goes". The new name got applied through folk etymology; people associated the loop with a hole, thought hold should actually be spelled hole, and changed it. Buttonhole designs evolved too, giving us our modern prototype of the word. Weird. NOW we etymologize button: possibly through French, it traces to the Proto-Germanic term buttan, from Proto-Indo-European bhau, a word that meant "to thrust" since buttons jut out. Hold, through Middle English holdan, Old English haldan, and Proto-Germanic haldan, ultimately derives from the Proto-Indo-European root kel, which meant "to shepherd" or "drive" under the connection of livestock.
Loosely defined, a Schwarzschild radius is a point where a sphere is forced to become a black hole. The term Schwarschild is a portmanteau of two German words: Schwarz, meaning "black", and schild, meaning "shield", which makes sense. Schwarz, through Middle German swarz, Old High German swarz, and Proto-Germanic swartaz, comes from the Proto-Indo-European root swordo, meaning "black". Very little semantic change for that term. Schild, through Middle German schilt and Old High German scilt, comes from the Proto-Germanic word skelduz, which also meant "shield" and is the etymon of the English word shield, by way of the Old English word scild. Skelduz is from Proto-Indo-European skel, which meant "to cut", under the connection that you cut wood to make a shield. So, now we know how Schwarzschild came to mean "black shield". HOWEVER, that was all just the last name of Karl Schwarzschild, a German physicist who first theorized the radius. This may be the single most incredible coincidence in all of scientific etymology and is amazing
You know how the President of Azerbaijan, Ilham Aliyev, appointed his wife to be vice president last February? No? Well, anyway, that was an example of nepotism, the act of favoring friends or relatives with political positions. However, in the olden days, it was just family, and before that it was just nephews (so Aliyev never really was nepotistic). This is because of the word's interesting etymology: through French nepotisme and Italian nepotismo, the word derives from Latin nepos, meaning "nephew". This is because the popes of the Middle Ages (situated in Italy, of course) commonly appointed their own nephews to serve as cardinals, most notably Paul III and Callixtus III. Anyway, nepos (also the source of nephew, through French neveu) derives from the Proto-Italic root nepots, from Proto-Indo-European nepots, which carried a double meaning of "nephew" and "grandson". I wonder if this would hold up as a legal loophole...
Adam Aleksic, a leading contender for valedictorian of his high school, is a 204-month-old boy with an almost disturbing interest in etymology, vexillology, geography, and law. Adam would like to one day visit Tajikistan and does not have illegal monetary relations with any foreign governments.