When it comes to the language we hear, read, and speak every day, it can be easy for us to take advantage of all the interesting ways it's transformed since its beginning.
But when etymologists are given the opportunity to nerd out over their favorite facts, they're not shy about sharing.
So when Redditor ocddoc shared a fun question, the etymologists lurking on Reddit were quick to reply.
"Etymologists of Reddit, what is the coolest origin of a word?"
When Definitions Expand
"The dashboard is a board on the front of a horse carriage meant to keep mud from kicking up on the passengers when the horse dashes."
"And over time it came to mean the front part of anything, even a computer interface is sometimes called a dashboard."
"Etymology: Shibboleth was a Hebrew word for a part of a plant. But at one point, it was used to determine whether someone belonged to one cultural group or another because the groups pronounced the word differently."
"Now, it refers to words and phrases like those that 'out' someone as part of a particular group whether it's by pronunciation or understanding."
"For example, get a native German speaker to say, 'squirrel,' and they almost definitely won't be able to."
The ABCs... and More
"The Ampersand (&) used to be a letter in the English alphabet. It came after Z in the in the alphabet."
"In the alphabet song, after you finished with Z, kids would sing: 'and per se and,' which is where the name ampersand comes from. 'And per se and' basically means 'also and as itself.'"
"Pumpernickel comes from the German words pumpern ('to break wind') and Nickel ('goblin'), apparently due to its indigestibility."
"Their bread is so coarse, it would make the devil break wind."
"'Their bread is of the very coarsest kind, ill-baked, and as black as a coal, for they never sift their flour. The people of the country call it POMPERNICKEL,' from ‘The Grand Tour; or, A Journey Through the Netherlands, Germany, Italy, and France’ by Thomas Nugent, II."
"In my mind, the literal translation of pumpernickel is 'fart goblin.'"
"Incidentally, I encourage one of you to make a band called 'Fart Goblin.'"
'Etymology: melon. It's not particularly interesting in itself, it came from Ancient Greek, through Latin, to Old French, before finding its way to English."
"All along the way, it referred to various gourds. However, and this is the interesting bit, melons was slang for 'boobs' in Greek, and it retained this slang definition as well as its 'real' definition all the way to English."
"Usually, in etymology, you keep one definition or the other, and never both, which makes it really interesting. Also 'boobies.'"
"The etymology of 'tawdry' is a real ride."
"There was a 7th-century Anglo-Saxon saint named Æthelthryth. Now, nobody, not even 7th century Anglo-Saxons, wants to go around trying to pronounce that dense forest of th's, so she was commonly known as St. Etheldreda, and later, linguistically lazier people called her St. Audrey."
"St. Audrey was the patron saint of a town called Ely, and the folks of Ely held a fair every year in her name. One of the primary products on offer at these fairs was lace. 'St. Audrey's lace' was said a few too many times, and got slurred down to 'tawdry lace.'"
"Over time, the lace fell out of favor. It was mainly made by peasant women, and thus viewed as cheap, and the Puritans looked down on lace garments of any kind as ostentatious. 'Tawdry' then began to be used to describe other things that were cheap and ostentatious, and the modern definition of the word was born."
"Etymology: Nimrod was originally a compliment referring to one's hunting skills (Nimrod being a biblical figure known for his ability to hunt), but the definition changed because people didn't understand Bugs Bunny was calling Elmer Fudd a Nimrod sarcastically."
Words Formed by Fear
"The word 'bear' in many languages in Europe (including English) just means 'brown thing.'"
"There used to be a proper name for bear, but it was taboo because saying it was believed to summon a bear, who would then kill everyone. It was so taboo, it was eventually forgotten and the euphemism (brown thing) became the name."
"Ancient people were scared pi**less by bears."
"The Arctic draws its root from 'arctus,' the Greek word for bear. So it's the 'land of bears,' and the Antarctic is thus, 'the land without bears.'"
"In eastern Slavic languages, they were so scared that even the 'brown thing' became taboo."
"The word is still used as a part of 'the bear's lair' name, but the animal itself is referred to as 'the-one-who-knows-where-is-honey.'"
"The Croatian word for bear is 'medved,' which has two parts: med for 'honey' and veď' for 'to know.'"
"Random story... 'med' was one of the first words of Slovak I learned, because I used to make mead, so 'medovina' is 'med wine' or 'honey wine' made perfect sense to me."
"So we were walking past a bar in Bratislava that had 'medved' in its name, so I asked what it had to do with honey."
"She explained that it meant bear, and had in fact nothing to do with honey."
"A short google later, I won, and she learned a little about her own language, from this stupid Englishman whose knowledge of Slovak doesn't get much further than the dinner menu."
"(I'm trying, I really am. But I thought having genders in languages was complicated. You guys have like 5000 different word endings to memorize for each and every word!)"
"Etymology: Nightmare. The 'mare' part of the word 'nightmare' comes from Germanic folklore, in which a 'mare' is an evil female spirit or goblin that sits upon a sleeper’s chest, suffocating them or giving them bad dreams."
"So basically the word comes from a description of sleep paralysis."
"Malaria. Malaria is an infectious disease characterized by chills and fever and caused by the bite of an infected Anopheles mosquito."
"This word comes from the medieval Italian mal (bad) and aria (air), describing the miasma from the swamps around Rome."
"This 'bad air' was believed to be the cause of the fever that often developed in those who spent time around the swamps. In fact, the illness, now known as malaria, was due to certain protozoans present in the mosquitos that bred around these swamps, and which caused recurring feverish symptoms in those they bit."
And One Redditor Couldn't Choose Just One
"I love love love this game! Here are some of my favorite recent ones, summed up very basically."
"'Scuttlebutt" was first a nautical term for a cask (butt) of drinking water with a hole (scuttle) for drawing it out. The term came to mean 'rumor' or 'gossip' because sailors would gather to idly chat around the cask. It is the predecessor of the term 'watercooler talk' for workplace gossip."
"Before 1860, the word 'pollution' commonly meant 'semen,' specifically semen released somewhere other than during conjugal activities, or 'defilement' or 'desecration.' Also, the words 'seminal,' 'disseminate,' and 'seminary' derive from the Latin 'semen.'"
"'Meteor' comes from the Greek metéōron, literally meaning 'thing high up.' In 15th-century English, 'meteor' could refer to any atmospheric phenomena, which were differentiated by various classifications of meteors. Hence 'meteorology' as the study of atmospheric conditions, rather than just meteors."
"Classifications included: aerial meteors (notable winds and tornadoes and such), aqueous meteors (water-based atmospheric phenomena such as rain, snow, hail, dew, frost, and clouds), luminous meteors (auroras, rainbows, and other light-based phenomena), and igneous meteors (fiery-looking phenomena such as lightning and shooting stars)."
"Around 1590, the English word began to take on the more specific, fiery extraterrestrial meaning we use today."
"'Ambivalence'was first a psychological term, literally meaning 'strength on both sides.' Paul Eugen Bleuler, the psychologist who coined it in 1910, also coined the terms schizophrenia ('a splitting of the mind') and autism (from Greek autos, 'self')."
"'Feisty' ('spirited, lively') arose in 1896. Before, feist meant 'small dog,' a shortening of 'fysting curre' ('stinking cur'), wherein fyst meant 'to break wind,' supposedly conflated because ladies would blame their gas on their lapdogs. In sum, 'feisty' means 'farty dog.'"
"'Alchemy' is from the Greek khemeioa, which was either from Khemia, a name for Egypt meaning 'land of black earth,' or the Greek khymatos 'that which is poured out.' It was often used as a scientific term until the 1600s when 'chemistry' arose from it, leaving 'alchemy' with its more mystical sense."
"The word 'tabby' came to refer to cats in the 1690s due to their fur pattern, which resembles a striped silk taffeta also called tabby, originally (via French) from the name of the Baghdad neighborhood Attabiy, where rich silks were made. The area was named after the Umayyad prince Attab."
"'Clone' as a term for the production of genetically identical individuals was coined in 1963 by J.B.S. Haldane. It was predated by the horticultural sense of "clon" or "clone," the process whereby a new plant is created using cuttings from another. Both are from the Ancient Greek klōn, 'twig.'"
"'Jargon,' adopted from French in the 14th century, originally meant 'unintelligible talk, gibberish; chattering, jabbering.' It wryly took on its current meaning, 'phraseology peculiar to a sect or profession,' in the 1650s due to the fact that such speech was unintelligible to outsiders."
"'Moxie,' (general use from the 1930s) comes from the brand name of a bitter syrup first marketed as the medicine 'Moxie Nerve Food' in 1876, then sold as a soft drink starting in 1884. The brand may be from a Native American Abenaki word for 'dark water,' from Maine lake and river names."
"And, finally, an entomological etymology! The praying mantis (Mantis religiosa) and other insects in the order Mantodea get their name from the Greek mantis, literally 'one who divines, a seer, prophet,' which in turn is from mainesthai or 'be inspired.'"
Languages are fascinating as they continue to change with society's needs and popular culture influences. But to look back in time at the many ways a word may have changed might be the most interesting study of all.
Wordsmiths Weigh In On Which Obscure Words They Wish Were Used More
English is an ever-evolving language, with new words coming to be and old words falling out of fashion all the time.
Some older words are actually quite useful or fun, though, and could have a place in the modern language.
Reddit user emkatherine asked:
“In the English language, what's an old-fashioned or obscure word you wish were used more often?"
“Overmorrow/ereyesterday just easier to say than the day after/before tomorrow/yesterday. l still use these terms in Dutch (overmorgen/eergisteren).”
“I wonder why the English stopped.”
“Quibble: a slight objection or criticism of a trivial matter.”
“Clement, which means mild and is most often used as an adjective to describe weather. We use ‘inclement weather’ all the time, so why not ’clement weather?’”
“Perambulate ~ Walking for pleasure”
”I use this and my girlfriend rolls her eyes.“
“I take the cat on his morning perambulations.”
“Boondoggle. Something that is a waste of time, but has the appearance of being practical.”
“Boondoggle is super common in American politics. I don't know if it's used elsewhere. Politically, it's often used to describe an expensive project that is presented as being for the public good but is actually a favor to a particular donor or a way to filter government funds to the contractor that builds it.”
“Gobsmacked, I thinks it's more common in the Commonwealth but not in America.”
“‘Common in the commonwealth’ tickled me a tad.”
“Defenestration—the act of throwing something or someone out of a window.”
“If I could throw in an Old English word I wish we used?”
“Bōchord or maybe bochord : library, collection of books, essentially book + hoard.”
“Aglet. That's what the end of a shoelace is called but I never hear it being used.”
“Swell. It has such a endearing charm to it.”
"’Mmm this chicken is swell!’”
"’I had a swell time with you last night’"
These words may have fallen out of fashion in much of the world, but there’s no reason we can’t bring them back.
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People Break Down Common Sayings That Actually Have A Second Part Everyone Ignores
Please try not to be too salty when you reach the end of this article and realize how many times these "common sayings" have been chopped up and taken out of context so they can be used to manipulate you.
I said try. Nobody is going to blame you...
Reddit user "RedditCredits" asked:
"What sayings have a second part that everybody ignores?"
... so, like, does anybody else notice how the meaning is often changed by the rest of the phrase?
JackTea Shade GIFGiphy
"Like, 'Jack of all trades, master of none...' "
"There's more to that phrase. The rest goes "is often times better than a master of one.' " - redditcredits
"This one is especially curious case, because the original phrase started not even as a saying, just a description of a person. As in 'John is a real Jack of all trades' (i.e. John can do many things)."
"Then someone decided to append with their personal judgement that specializing is better - basically being shady by saying if he's good at lots of things then he can't be GREAT at anything."
"So we got 'Jack of all trades, master of none' "
"And then someone else added their personal judgment that being well-rounded is better so we got 'Jack of all trades, master of none, if often times better than a master of one.' "
"Soon, it will be: 'Jack of all trades, master of none, better than master of one, but not really, but yes really, but not if you think about it, but especially if you think about it...' " - suvlub
MediocrityThe Incredibles Teacher Life GIFGiphy
" 'Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery...'
" The second part: 'That mediocrity can pay to greatness.' "
"That last clause really drives home a slightly different point than we might be used to." - ZombieSquirrel
"So basically that quote is a roast? Damn." - justwalking_683
"Didnt know about this second part, definitely changes how I look at the quote. Thanks for sharing." - SmilingWatermelon
Great MindsEmily Blunt Love GIF by The Animal Crackers MovieGiphy
"Great minds think alike - but simple minds seldom differ" - DGDadbod
"What's the point of this phrase? It's set up as a differentiation between great and simple minds, but ends up saying they're the exact same." - 00PT
"It's saying that consensus isn't a guarantee that your idea is a good one."
"The first half 'great minds think alike' is usually used to suggest that consensus means your idea is good."
"For instance, I believe we should get ice cream and so does my friend, we're thinking alike, great minds think alike, thus we have great minds and getting ice cream is a good idea."
"However the second half indicates that consensus is meaningless if the people involved are stupid."
"For instance I'm drunk and think we should go try to fight that cop, and my buddy is drunk and thinks we should go try to fight that cop, we have consensus, but we're both simple drunk idiots, so that consensus doesn't matter. Still a bad idea." - finance_n_fitness
The Love Before The FuryAngry Weight Loss GIF by BounceGiphy
" 'Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned' "
"William Congreve a 17th century playwright had this become his most famous quote. However, the actual line from his 1697 play, The Mourning Bride, goes:"
" 'Heaven has no rage like love to hatred turned / Nor hell a fury like a woman scorned.' " - SlapDaBacon
"It's all about the 'love to hatred turned' part."
"The way I interpret it is if if you wrong a stranger they'll be pissed off, but not dramatically. If you wrong somebody you're close to, who loves you, the anger can be much greater because of the betrayal." - pineapplespy
"If you betray a woman who loves you, she can possess anger more powerful than any found in heaven or hell. She had to love you first."
"It was never meant to be about the girl you only went on one date with." - shastaxc
ApplesThrowing Episode 2 GIF by The X-FilesGiphy
"A lot of people say 'there's a (few) bad apple(s)' but they forget that they 'spoil the whole bunch.' "
"I've heard it used more and more to defend against regulation, particularly in the financial and law enforcement sectors." - GundamMaker
"When a cop is caught doing something atrocious, they always say 'he was just one bad apple.' But the point is that when the police force tolerates those bad apples and hides their misdeeds, it corrupts the whole force."
"The bad apple spoils the bunch and needs to be removed proactively!" - poppop_n_the_attic
"This is the one that gets used the most without the second half and it drastically changes the meaning." - AltharaD
"To be clear, this is how apples really work. When an apple goes bad, it releases a gas that makes other nearby apples also go bad."
"So literally if you have a bunch of apples and one of them goes bad, it will taint all the others if it's not caught and removed immediately. If it's allowed to stay, the whole bunch is ruined and dangerous."
"That's what the saying is meant to convey." - Oudeis16
Money = Evil?Dave Chappelle Reaction GIFGiphy
"People usually think it's money itself that's evil, so you'll commonly hear 'Money is the root of all evil.' "
"But the actual phrase is saying that it is the love of money that's the root of all evil." - PuzzledInside123
"The context around the quote, from 1 Timothy:"
" 'But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition.' "
" 'For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.' " - jalabi99
"Money itself isn't good or evil; it's just an inanimate object. But love of money -- i.e., a person obsessed with money… well, I hope that's obvious." - brndm
Redditors Recount The Wedding Objections They Witnessed | George Takei’s Oh MyyyWeddings are supposed to be all about love and celebration, right? But let's be honest, weddings are stressful. According to a recent Zola survey of 500 enga...
" 'Carpe diem, quam minimum credula postero' "
"Translation: 'Seize the day, trusting as little as possible in the future.' "
"People generally take it as meaning live for the moment, where as the quote was to inspire the taking of every opportunity to work hard to ensure your future is stable, so not living for the moment, but planning for the future" - cpsutcliffe
"The translation from Latin is closer to 'pluck' the day (as in pick fruit while it is ripe.) Basically, stop and smell the roses while you can because the future isn't guaranteed no matter how hard you work today." - EducatedDeath
" 'Judge not that you be not judged.' "
"Everyone takes this to mean that you should never, ever, under any circumstances, judge someone. So they ignore atrocious behavior like 'Yes that other person could be cheating on their spouse, but we can't judge. Not our place.' "
"The second half of the verse says, 'for by what standard you judge, you will be judged.' "
"The entire warning is about hypocrisy. In another words, don't judge your neighbor for being an adulterer if you happen to have a side piece of your own."
"If you judge your neighbor for something then be ready to be judged by that same standard." - agreeingstorm9
A Little KnowledgeThink About It Reaction GIF by IdentityGiphy
" 'A little learning is a dangerous thing' "
"It's the first line of a poem by Alexander Pope. The rest of the first stanza is: "
" 'Drink deep or taste not the Pierian spring' "
" 'There shallow draughts intoxicated the brain' "
" 'And drinking largely sobers us again.' "
"The poem is criticizing superficial knowledge (reddits speciality...) Not actual education. Btw the Pierian spring is from mythology and source of knowledge." - ikonoqlast
Opium's Not Necessarily Always Bad, Though...Rise Up Hbo GIF by Vice Principals Giphy
" 'Religion is the opiate of the masses' "
"The full text is more like: 'Religion is the opium of the people. It is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of our soulless conditions.' "
"Today, opium is regarded as a stupefying narcotic, so most people interpret it as 'religion makes people dumb,' but that's not what Marx meant."
"In his day, opium was the only real pain-killer there was. In other words, religion was the thing that helped oppressed people tolerate their oppression."
"Marx meant as a criticism of religion, since it forestalled what he felt was a necessary overthrow of their oppressors."
"His issue was that he felt religion allowed people to be complacent and accepting of oppression, not that it made people unintelligent." - jemenake
Human MistakesStarz Professor GIF by Power Book II: GhostGiphy
"In Latin: 'Erare humanum est,' which means: 'to make mistakes is to be human.'
"But the second part of the phrase is 'Perceverum Diabolitas,' which roughly translates to 'to continue making them is devilish' everyone forgets the second part!"
"I hear a version of it in English that ends with 'to forgive is divine' but it dismisses any accountability. The original phrase does not, it's all about the accountability of not making that 'mistake' again." - Antorac
Weave A Better Webs reactions web GIFGiphy
" 'Oh what a tangled web we weave...' is a phrase I hear often. I sometimes hear it with the second half of the line: 'When first we practice to deceive' "
"But the next part is so often omitted that most people don't understand the whole meaning:"
" 'But how vastly we've improved our style / When we've practiced for a while.' "
"Yeah, it's basically saying we get better at lying with practice." - bp_516
BuzzkillNbc Brooklyn 99 GIF by Brooklyn Nine-NineGiphy
" 'Eat, drink, and be merry' "
"The rest of the sentence is: 'for tomorrow we die.' which is a major buzzkill, not a warm holiday greeting." - miraakthecasbah
BlissSad Face GIFGiphy
"People are familiar with the expression, 'Ignorance is bliss.' However, the full sentence is:"
" 'Where ignorance is bliss, 'tis folly to be wise.' "
"In other words, it's not that it's good to be uneducated; rather, there's not always a benefit in knowing certain disturbing pieces of information."
"From the 1742 poem 'Ode on a Distant Prospect of Eton College,' by Thomas Gray." - ChannelingWhiteLight
Toxic Honeytoxic britney spears GIFGiphy
" 'Revenge is sweet' "
"It comes from this:"
" 'Revenge is sweet, a toxic honey that corrodes the soul.' - Sun Tzu. It's not, at all, supposed to celebrate revenge." - Al-Alecto
Does knowing the rest of these phrases change anything about how you've understood them? Sound off.