What Is a “Whatsit”? On Kadigans, or Placeholder Names

Words like "thingamajig," "whatsit" and "doohickey" are called “placeholder names” or kadigans. The origin of “kadigan” isn’t clear. Some suggest it could somehow be related to the generic word “gin,” as in a “cotton gin,” (not related to the drink) which is a shortening of the word “engine” and took the place of engine in… Continue reading What Is a “Whatsit”? On Kadigans, or Placeholder Names

The (Etymological) Difference Between Tortoises and Turtles

The difference between a turtle and a tortoise can be confusing: Technically, all turtles, tortoises and terrapins belong ARE turtles and belong to the turtle order Testudines, which comes from the Latin word testa, meaning "shell" But for the most part, people use the word “tortoise” to refer to completely land-dwelling turtle species, while the generic word “turtle”… Continue reading The (Etymological) Difference Between Tortoises and Turtles

The Naked Truth About “Gymnasium”

One of my favorite things about the English language is how many perfectly innocent-sounding words are a little bit less wholesome than you might expect. Take the word "gym," for instance—that’s gym as in gymnasium, the place where you go to work out, train or play sports. Gymnasium is a Latin word, and originally comes… Continue reading The Naked Truth About “Gymnasium”

The Etymology of Trivia: A Place Where Three Roads Meet

The lessons I share here are often classifiable as trivia: little bits of information that are of little consequence outside of being curiosities. You might call them “trivialities"—even though I, and most of you, agree that words and their origins are not trivial and do matter a great deal. Trivia is a Latin word, the… Continue reading The Etymology of Trivia: A Place Where Three Roads Meet

Out of This Word: The Origins of 5 Intergalactic Terms

Space-related words have some of the most enchanting etymologies in the cosmos.We call our galaxy the Milky Way because the stars and other matter that compose it look like milk splashed across the night sky. But did you know that’s also where the word “galaxy” itself comes from? It originally comes from the Greek phrase… Continue reading Out of This Word: The Origins of 5 Intergalactic Terms

The Tale of the Defiant Pineapple and Its Confused Friend the Pinecone

English is one of the only European or Asian languages that doesn't use a variation of the word "ananas" to mean pineapple. In 14th-century English, the word “pineapple” was a word for a pine cone, which makes a lot of sense if you think about the way pinecones grow on conifers, much like apples on apple trees. During… Continue reading The Tale of the Defiant Pineapple and Its Confused Friend the Pinecone