Etymology– the study of how words evolve – can often reveal the deeper meaning of a word. But sometimes, a word’s history is just plain crazy. Here are 18 words with an origin we didn’t expect.
noun: a trite phrase or expression
From the French “clicher” (to click), and was supposedly named after the sound a type press made when striking metal and making copies.
noun: a plumber’s occupation or trade
From the original name for Lead (Pb), Plumbum. Lead was used at the time to make pipes (hence plumbing) and weights used for “plumbing” the depths of the sea. “Plummet” comes from the same root, as the weights would fall perpendicularly into the ocean.
noun: one who engages in a pursuit, study, science, or sport as a pastime rather than as a profession
The root of “amateur” is “amare,” the Latin verb for “to love.” So, if you’re an amateur, you don’t do something just because you have to – you do it because you love it.
adjective: devoid of inhabitants and visitors Evolved from the Latin root “de-“ meaning thoroughly or completely, and “solus,” meaning alone. Completely, utterly, absolutely, and hauntingly alone.
verb: to hallow or consecrate by religious rite or word
From the Old English word for “blood,” to bless something may have evolved from the act of smearing blood on it.
verb: to weigh in the mind
Much like the word “pound,” ponder comes from the Latin word “pondus,” which means “weight.”
noun: a person who travels beyond the earth’s atmosphere
“Astro” comes from the Greek word for “star,” and “-naut” comes from the Greek word for “sailor.” So, an astronaut is a star-sailor.
noun: the state of being homesick
Born of a combination of the Greek words for “returning home” and “pain” – sometimes hauntingly translated as “the pain of homecoming.”
adjective: affected with a severely disordered state of mind
From the Latin word “luna,” meaning “moon,” immortalizing the belief that the moon could cause erratic personality changes, or even temporary insanity.
noun: an aircraft whose lift is derived from the aerodynamic forces acting on one or more powered rotors turning about substantially vertical axes
This mashup of Greek roots comes from “helix,” the Greek word for “spiral,” and “pteron,” the Greek word for wing (which you may know from the majestic winged dinosaur, the pterodactyl).
noun: a family, tribe, people, or nation belonging to the same stock
The word “race” comes from the Old French “rasse” or Italian “razze,” both meaning “family.” The human race = one big family.
noun: sympathetic consciousness of others’ distress together with a desire to alleviate it
It may sound soft, but this word comes from the Latin “compati,” meaning “to suffer with.”
noun: the words, their pronunciation, and the methods of combining them used and understood by a community
From the Latin “lingua” meaning “tongue.” “Linguine” is also from the same root – something to think about the next time you have a conversation over a bowl of pasta.
noun: a right or immunity granted as a peculiar benefit, advantage, or favor
From the Latin word “privilegium,” meaning a law for just one person, or “private law.”
adjective: full of nervous energy
From the Middle English word for “small dog,” which came from the 15th-century word for “fart.” So when someone says you’re feisty, they’re comparing you to a tiny hound with gas.
adjective: using both hands with equal ease or dexterity
From the Latin root “ambi,” meaning both, and “dexter,” meaning your right side. So if you’re ambidextrous, you have two right hands.
noun: a terrestrial annelid worm
From the Old English word “wyrm,” which is a type of poetic dragon without legs or wings. In a sense, you could call the wiggly fishing bait “dirt dragons.”
verb: to join in a secret agreement to do an unlawful or wrongful act or an act which becomes unlawful as a result of the secret agreement
From the Latin roots “con” (meaning “with”) and “spirare” (meaning “to breathe”). To conspire is to “breathe together.”
[All definitions from Merriam Webster, and a big hat tip to this Twitter thread for the inspiration and information.]