Like many words of its kind, etymology found its way to English in the 14th century by way of Old French, at which point it simply robbed the older language of the term etimologie or ethimologie. English is quite the thief, you see.
"Barricade" came to English via the Middle French barricade, literally meaning "made of barrels." Its association with war and revolution comes from religion-fueled riots in Paris during the late 1500s, when combatants set up blockades made of stone- and dirt-filled barrels in the streets. These riots were part of the French Wars of Religion, fought between French… Continue reading The Etymology of “Barricade”
"Clone" as a term for the production of genetically identical individuals was coined in 1963 by J.B.S. Haldane. It was predated by the horticultural sense of "clon" or "clone," the process whereby a new plant is created using cuttings from another. Both are from the Ancient Greek klōn, "twig." In botany, "clon" was first used in the… Continue reading The Etymology of “Clone”
The word "tabby" came to refer to cats in the 1690s due to their fur pattern, which resembles a striped silk taffeta also called tabby, originally (via French) from the name of the Baghdad neighborhood Attabiy, where rich silks were made. The area was named after the Umayyad prince Attab. Tabis, the French word from… Continue reading The Etymology of “Tabby (Cat)”
I wanted to know the origin of the word "matador," so I looked it up and fell down a crazy etymological rabbit hole. First of all, "matador" means "killer," from matar, "to kill." While it's most likely from the Latin mactare "to kill," it could be from the Arabic mata "he died," from Persian, which… Continue reading The Etymology of “Matador” … and “Checkmate” … “and Check” (I Swear They’re Related)
"Moonshine" (unaged spirits illicitly distilled "by the light of the moon") is thought to be inspired by "moonrakers," a name for apocryphal English brandy smugglers who raked up kegs from ponds. When caught, they pretended to be fools attempting to rake cheese from the reflection of the moon. Moonshine, obviously, first referred to the literal light of… Continue reading The Etymology of “Moonshine”
In the early 14th century, "dandelion" was spelled dent-de-lioun, a direct loan from French, but over time, colloquial use morphed it into the current spelling. Here's an image of the leaf-shape to which the name refers. Regarding some of its other English names: Tell-time refers to the practice of determining the time by picking mature white dandelions—called "blowballs" or, in the same… Continue reading The Etymology of “Dandelion”