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)

The Etymology of “Moonshine”

"Moonshine" (unaged spirits illicitly distilled "by the light of the moon") is thought to be inspired by "moonrakers," a name for apocryphal English brandy smugglers who raked up kegs from ponds. When caught, they pretended to be fools attempting to rake cheese from the reflection of the moon. Moonshine, obviously, first referred to the literal light of… Continue reading The Etymology of “Moonshine”

The Etymology of “Dandelion”

In the early 14th century, "dandelion" was spelled dent-de-lioun, a direct loan from French, but over time, colloquial use morphed it into the current spelling. Here's an image of the leaf-shape to which the name refers. Regarding some of its other English names: Tell-time refers to the practice of determining the time by picking mature white dandelions—called "blowballs" or, in the same… Continue reading The Etymology of “Dandelion”

The Etymology of “Geyser”

The English word "geyser" was adopted from "Geysir," meaning "the gusher," originally the proper name of a specific hot spring in Iceland. With time and general lack of understanding by English-speaking visitors, it became a general word for spouting hot springs. The English word geyser was adopted from the Icelandic word Geysir, the name of one specific… Continue reading The Etymology of “Geyser”

The Etymology of “Cartoon”

"Cartoon" (1670s) first referred to the heavy paper on which preliminary sketches for artwork were made. While political cartoons and caricatures (literally "an overloading," from caricare "to load; exaggerate") are much older, "cartoon" was applied to them around 1843, then to animations c. 1916. The Italian word cartone—which also influences the contemporary word "carton" (as in… Continue reading The Etymology of “Cartoon”