We all know estrogen as a chemical and female sex hormone, but did you know it has sexist origins? When etymologizing it, I immediately recognized -gen as that suffix meaning "producing" (as present in nitrogen and oxygen). I was correct; additionally, through French and Greek, -gen traces to the Proto-Indo-European root gene, "to beget". The estrus root, however, is where it gets interesting. It means "frenzied passion", obviously a sexist reference to women and their hormones. This is similar to the story of hysteria, which meant "uterus". Appropriation abounds! Anyway, estrus derives from Latin oestrus, also meaning "frenzy" but in a less pseudo-scientific sense. Then another twist in the plot line makes everything weirder: oestrus is a borrowing from Greek oistrus, which meant "gadfly", an annoying insect which incites frenzy in some animals. It all is from Proto-Indo-European heys, which was a generally emotional word which kinda meant "anger" but was more complex than that for philologists to understand.
Adam Aleksic is a 221-month-old, 2800-ounce high school senior with disturbing interests in etymology, vexillology, geography, board games, limericks, and law. Adam will be studying linguistics at Harvard University in the fall.
The Etymology Nerd