The word unicorn has one horn but no corn, so what does -corn mean? I thought it was an old Germanic word for "horn", and I was half right. It's Italic! Through Middle English and Anglo-Norman, it traces to Old French unicorne, from Latin unicornis, both with the same modern meaning. Now, unicorns were first "discovered" 2,400 years ago by the Greeks, but the word was invented by the Romans (they sure loved copying the Greeks), who combined the common prefix uni- ("one") and the root cornu, which meant "horn". There you have the "one horn" translation, but we're not quite done yet. Cornu is a word we've already seen; it goes to PIE kerh, "horn". Uni- we've seen but not covered; it is a conjugated form of unus, their number "one", from Proto-Italic oinos and PIE oynos, both meaning "one" as well. Unicorn had the highest modern usage in the middle of the Great Depression, proving that desperate situations lead to greater imagination. Usage lately has also been increasing; I wonder what that tells us.
Adam Aleksic is a sophomore studying linguistics and government at Harvard University. He also has disturbing interests in politics, vexillology, geography, board games, conlanging, and law.