The Word “Escalator” Is Older than “Escalate” and Other Quirks of Back-Formations

One of my favorite sets of mindbending etymological facts is that: A) The word "escalate" didn't exist before the invention of the escalator. B) The word "escalade," which is not originally a brand name for a Cadillac SUV, did exist as early as the 1500s as a word for scaling fortifications with ladders. Yes, really.… Continue reading The Word “Escalator” Is Older than “Escalate” and Other Quirks of Back-Formations

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