Useless Etymology is a collection of editorialized word histories released in no particular order by Jess Zafarris. It’s possible you’ve seen my videos on TikTok, or on Twitter @UselessEty or @jesszafarris. The posts vary in length and style, but many include gifs and images of questionable quality.
Jess is also the author of the middle-grade nonfiction book ONCE UPON A WORD: A WORD-ORIGIN DICTIONARY FOR KIDS (Rockridge Press, February 2020), which is available for preorder at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and IndieBound. Learn more about the book here.
My usual hard sources are as follows, with inspiration from the Online Etymological Dictionary.
- The Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology
- Oxford Dictionary of Word Origins (Oxford Quick Reference) by Cresswell, Julia
- Etymological Dictionary of Modern English by Ernest Weekley
- The Barnhart Concise Dictionary of Etymology, 1st Edition by Robert K. Barnhart
- Dictionary of Word Origins: The Histories of More Than 8,000 English-Language Words by John Ayto
- The Dictionary of American Slang, Subsequent Edition by Robert L. Chapman
Note: I first published many of these writeups on Reddit’s Etymology Subreddit, but they are, in fact, my original work.
About Jess Zafarris
Jess Zafarris is the author of Once Upon a Word: A Word-Origin Dictionary for Kids, and an educational social media creator who focuses on etymology and word history-focused deep dives and explanations. She has contributed content and content strategy to the tabletop game League of the Lexicon and created dozens of book-centric puzzles and curated quotes for the Writer’s Digest Daily Calendar 2020. She has appeared on podcasts including Dear Hank and John, Social Pros, Yeah, That’s Probably an Ad, and Author2Author. She has emceed major events including Social Media Week and Brandweek, and she has moderated sessions at dozens of large-scale events in the advertising, publishing and design spaces.
She is also an award-winning innovator of digital journalism, audience engagement and marketing solutions and a prolific online and print writer, having served as Audience Engagement Director at Adweek and Executive Director of Marketing & Communications for Gotham Ghostwriters. Before that, she served as Content Strategist and Digital Content Director for Writer’s Digest and Script.
She has organically and exponentially grown social media audiences and engagement exponentially at Adweek, Writer’s Digest, HOW and PRINT, notably boosting Adweek’s TikTok following from 2,000 to 120,000 in less than 6 months.
Her 11 years of experience in digital and print content direction and marketing also include such roles as editor-in-chief of HOW magazine and online content director of HOW and PRINT magazines, as well as writing for Jane Friedman’s publishing newsletter The Hot Sheet, the Denver Business Journal, ABC News, and the Memphis Commercial Appeal. She has a bachelors in English Literature, with a focus on the development of English language as well as minors in Arabic and Anthropology, from DePaul University and a masters in Journalism & Mass Communications from the University of Colorado Boulder.
When she’s not changing the game for journalists and marketers, she’s blowing the minds of word enthusiasts on TikTok @jesszafarris, and via her blog UselessEtymology.com.