The Etymology of “Decal” and “Cockamamie”

"Decal," a design that can be transferred onto another surface, is short for "decalcomania," from French décalcomanie (Latin calcare "to tread on, press"). Decalcomania may also be the source of "cockamamie," meaning "nonsense, implausible," from the name of a series of children's temporary tattoos. Invented around 1750 by French engraver Simon François Ravenet when he… Continue reading The Etymology of “Decal” and “Cockamamie”

The Etymology of “Brownie” (the Impish Variety)

Thomas Keightley described brownies as "a personage of small stature, wrinkled visage, covered with short curly brown hair, and wearing a brown mantle and hood" in his 1823 compendium Fairy Mythology. (Full text of that passage from an 1892 version.) So by that logic the name is based on their clothing, which—considering they were household imps—might… Continue reading The Etymology of “Brownie” (the Impish Variety)

The Etymology of “Alchemy”

"Alchemy" is from the Greek khemeioa, which was either from Khemia, a name for Egypt meaning "land of black earth," or the Greek khymatos "that which is poured out." It was often used as a scientific term until the 1600s when "chemistry" arose from it, leaving "alchemy" with its more mystical sense. The al- prefix predictably comes from the definite… Continue reading The Etymology of “Alchemy”

The Etymology of Psychological Terms: “Ambivalence,” “Schizophrenia” and “Autism”

Ambivalence was first a psychological term, literally meaning "strength on both sides." Paul Eugen Bleuler, the psychologist who coined it in 1910, also coined the terms schizophrenia ("a splitting of the mind") and autism (from Greek autos, "self"). Originally coined by Swiss psychologist Paul Eugen Bleuler in 1910, "ambivalence" as a psychological term means much the same… Continue reading The Etymology of Psychological Terms: “Ambivalence,” “Schizophrenia” and “Autism”

The Etymology of “Porpoise” (and “Tortoise” and “Dolphin”)

"Porpoise" literally means "pig-fish" from the Old French porpais (porc "pig, swine" + peis "fish"), probably a translation of Germanic words such as the Old Norse mar-svin, meaning "mereswine," which was also an early English word for porpoises or small dolphins. "Porpoise" is thought to have influenced the spelling of the word tortoise, which is not… Continue reading The Etymology of “Porpoise” (and “Tortoise” and “Dolphin”)