I just made a really cool connection. Sputnik right now is a word meaning "satellite", but everyone knows that that is a reference to the original Sputnik, the Russian spacecraft which orbited Earth in 1957. Well, where does that come from? Sputnik in Russian literally meant "traveling companion". Here we can eliminate the prefix s- (which meant "with") to get putnik, or "traveler". This is what my epiphany lead me to connect, for the word is the same in Serbian, which I speak. Because of my familiarity with Slavic languages, this also tells me that English speakers pronounce it wrong: it's not SPUTnick but SPOOTneek. So say it right. Anyway, putnik does happen to be a common Slavic word: it is from Old Church Slavonic, and consists of the root put ("road") and -nik ("person"; also seen in beatnik and peacenik). Put's origin is Proto-Slavic pontis, "way", from Proto-Balto-Slavic pont, and ultimately from the Proto-Indo-European reconstruction pent, also having a definition to do with roads and stuff. Pretty cool though!
Hello! I'm Adam Aleksic, a senior studying government and linguistics at Harvard University, where I co-founded the Harvard Undergraduate Linguistics Society. In addition to etymology, I also really enjoy trivia, politics, vexillology, geography, board games, conlanging, art history, and law.