The Etymology of “Barricade”

"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”

The Etymology of “Matador” … and “Checkmate” … “and Check” (I Swear They’re Related)

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)

The Etymology of “Moonshine”

"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”

The Etymology of “Dandelion”

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”