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”)

The Etymology of “Meteor”

"Meteor" comes from the Greek metéōron, literally meaning "thing high up." In 15th c. English, "meteor" could refer to any atmospheric phenomena, which were differentiated by various classifications of meteors. Hence "meteorology" as the study of atmospheric conditions, rather than just meteors. The term came to English in the late 15th century, from the Middle French météore, from Medieval… Continue reading The Etymology of “Meteor”

The Etymologies of “Jargon,” “Jabber,” and “Gibberish”

"Jargon," adopted from French in the 14th century, originally meant "unintelligible talk, gibberish; chattering, jabbering." It wryly took on its current meaning, "phraseology peculiar to a sect or profession," in the 1650s due to the fact that such speech was unintelligible to outsiders. Incidentally, the unintelligible sense of "jargon" also arose around the same time as the… Continue reading The Etymologies of “Jargon,” “Jabber,” and “Gibberish”

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)