4 Etymology Facts for Jane Austen’s Birthday

December 16 is Jane Austen's birthday, so today we'll explore a few intriguing etymology facts related to her and her wonderful works. The word prejudice first meant "contempt" more broadly, rather than today's sense of a specific bias. It comes from the Medieval Latin prejudicium, "injustice." Our current meaning connects more to the older Latin… Continue reading 4 Etymology Facts for Jane Austen’s Birthday

The Etymoooology of “Peculiar”

"Peculiar" comes from the Latin peculium, literally "property in cattle," a meaning that lingers in "peculiar to," meaning "belonging solely to." Its "odd" sense arose after the term evolved to mean "distinguished, special," describing a person or thing of great wealth or renown. Peculium was used to describe property in general, for cattle were considered the… Continue reading The Etymoooology of “Peculiar”

The Origins of the Phrase “Pull Yourself Up By Your Bootstraps”

The phrase "pull yourself up by your bootstraps" originated shortly before the turn of the 20th century. It's attributed to a late-1800s physics schoolbook that contained the example question "Why can not a man lift himself by pulling up on his bootstraps?" So when it became a colloquial phrase referring to socioeconomic advancement shortly thereafter, it… Continue reading The Origins of the Phrase “Pull Yourself Up By Your Bootstraps”

Why “Sinister” and “Dexterous” Go Hand-in-Hand

Did you know that "sinister" and "dexterous" are opposites? (Etymologically speaking, at least.) The word "sinister" comes from the Latin sinister, or "left." Because most people were right-handed, the left side was associated with weakness, bad luck, malice, and darkness (or sunset / the West), while sinister's opposite, dexter ("right") was associated with strength and… Continue reading Why “Sinister” and “Dexterous” Go Hand-in-Hand

On the Etymology of “Palindrome” and Other Forms of Wordplay

A palindrome, as you likely know, is a word or phrase that reads the same backward and forward (KAYAK, ROTATOR, CIVIC). The word literally means "a running back," or "a running again" from the Greek palin, meaning "back, again," and dromos, meaning "a running. Dromos is also the source of "dromedary," a one-humped camel known… Continue reading On the Etymology of “Palindrome” and Other Forms of Wordplay

Movies, Jukeboxes, and Demons: The Etymology of “Nickelodeon”

Before the TV network that defined the childhood of every 90s kid, "nickelodeon" was a word for a motion-picture theater or a jukebox. "Nickelodeon" is composed of the elements "nickel" (like the coin) and the Greek oideion, a type of roofed-over theater in which music was performed. Thus, one could pay a nickel to see… Continue reading Movies, Jukeboxes, and Demons: The Etymology of “Nickelodeon”