Coward comes from the Old French coart, "tail (of an animal)" + the pejorative ending -ard, suggesting an animal's tail tucked in fear. Coward comes from the Old French word coart, from the Latin coda or cauda, meaning "tail (of an animal)." As a result, the word likely came to imply fear in a metaphorical sense—an animal's tail tucked between its… Continue reading The Etymology of “Coward”
To be "disoriented" is to be feel confused or unable to determine where you are. Etymologically, it specifically means that you do not know in which direction the sun will rise—that is, which way is East. The base word comes from the Latin orientem, which means “the East.” The Latin base word is oriri, meaning… Continue reading If You’re Disoriented, Are You Also Disoccidented?
"Pterodactyl" was adopted from the French ptérodactyle, which came from the Latin name for the genus, Pterodactylus, which is formed by the Greek pteron, meaning "wing," and daktylos, meaning "finger." This is an engraving of the 1784 pterodactyl holotype (i.e., the first official named specimen). Despite the name, it was debated until the 1830s whether… Continue reading Etymological Journeys: What Do Pterodactyls, Helicopters and Confederates Have in Common?
It may come as no surprise that "spring" is a Middle English word for the time when new life "springs forth." What you may not know is that "spring" was also used in everyday phrases like spring of dai, meaning "sunrise," and spring of mone, meaning "moonrise." It was also used for the first growth… Continue reading An Etymology Lesson for the First Day of Spring
Since we’re stuck inside and all of the parades have been canceled, I have an alternative for you this fine St. Paddy’s Day: a parade of Irish words and their origins! Some you’ve met, some you may not have, but all are worthy of a toast. "Ireland" (or "Irish") itself is originally from the Old… Continue reading 10 Irish Words and Their Origins for St. Patrick’s Day
"Discombobulate" was one in a series of words invented in the early to mid-1800s as part of a fad popular among educated high-society types who made up faux words by compiling Latin prefixes, suffixes, roots and other non-Latin components into silly-sounding combinations. Discombobulate itself is used to mean "confused" or "disoriented" now, but originally meant… Continue reading The Etomeelo… Atomolo… Etymolololo… Etymology of “Discombobulate”
My book, Once Upon a Word: A Word-Origin Dictionary for Kids (Rockridge Press, Feb. 25, 2020), is dedicated to a woman named Nanette Quinn. You can read the dedication below. Let me tell you a bit about Nanette Quinn. When I was in high school, I took French with Nanette Quinn, whom we called Madame… Continue reading On the Importance of Looking Up Words