The lessons I share here are often classifiable as trivia: little bits of information that are of little consequence outside of being curiosities. You might call them “trivialities"—even though I, and most of you, agree that words and their origins are not trivial and do matter a great deal. Trivia is a Latin word, the… Continue reading The Etymology of Trivia: A Place Where Three Roads Meet
Out of This Word: The Origins of 5 Intergalactic Terms
Space-related words have some of the most enchanting etymologies in the cosmos.We call our galaxy the Milky Way because the stars and other matter that compose it look like milk splashed across the night sky. But did you know that’s also where the word “galaxy” itself comes from? It originally comes from the Greek phrase… Continue reading Out of This Word: The Origins of 5 Intergalactic Terms
The Origin of “Earth”
The planet Earth gets its name from the Old English eorþe, meaning “dirt, soil, or country.” In Old English, it was also occasionally used as a verb meaning to bury or inter someone. In Old English “earth" was also a word for the material human world, but it was more commonly known as Middangeard, as recorded… Continue reading The Origin of “Earth”
The Tale of the Defiant Pineapple and Its Confused Friend the Pinecone
English is one of the only European or Asian languages that doesn't use a variation of the word "ananas" to mean pineapple. In 14th-century English, the word “pineapple” was a word for a pine cone, which makes a lot of sense if you think about the way pinecones grow on conifers, much like apples on apple trees. During… Continue reading The Tale of the Defiant Pineapple and Its Confused Friend the Pinecone
Unexpectedly Shakespearean Words
Yesterday was William Shakespeare’s birthday (and also mine!) It’s commonly said that Shakespeare invented over 1700 words. While it’s true that his plays are the first documented appearance of many words, in most cases he did not just pluck them out of thin air. The majority are alterations or remixes of preexisting words by adding… Continue reading Unexpectedly Shakespearean Words
Root Exploration: Words Derived from the Greek Naus, or “Ship”
Let's look at words derived from or related to the Greek naus meaning “ship” and nautes, meaning “sailor.” You can probably guess that the word “nautical,” and “navy” come from this Greek source. Another related word is “navigate,” which literally and etymologically means “to set a ship in motion." Photo by Austin Neill on Unsplash The word “nausea,”… Continue reading Root Exploration: Words Derived from the Greek Naus, or “Ship”
The Etymology of “Coward”
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”
If You’re Disoriented, Are You Also Disoccidented?
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?
Etymological Journeys: What Do Pterodactyls, Helicopters and Confederates Have in Common?
"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?