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Funnest etymologies?
April 3, 2010 7:18 PM   Subscribe

The etymology of the word "glamour" comes from the word "grammar". Over time, the "r" eroded to an "l" and became associated with someone who was high–falutin. This is possibly my favourite etymological story, and I like sharing it with my students. I got it from a book called "Thereby Hangs a Tale". Metafilter, what are your favourite etymological stories?

I like to spice up Language Arts classes with mini–lessons in etymology and the kids are always pumped to learn where words come from. I'm running a little dry though, and am hoping metafilter knows of some really fun ones. Thank you for your time.
posted by fantasticninety to Education (84 answers total) 94 users marked this as a favorite
 
"Napkin" was originally "apkin," but people misread "an apkin" as "a napkin." The reverse happened with "apron" (originally "napron").
posted by Jaltcoh at 7:25 PM on April 3, 2010


Are you looking for real etymological stories or fake ones or both?

The stupidest etymological story (clearly a fake) which I have heard is that "shit" originally was an acronym for "stow high in transport."
posted by dfriedman at 7:28 PM on April 3, 2010


My favorite is the story behind why we call the animal a pig, but the meat pork (and sheep/mutton, cow/beef, etc.) in English. IIRC, it dates from the Norman invasion, when the upper classes (who were eating the meat) spoke French when they described what they were eating, but the native Anglo-Saxon peasants, who raised the animals, used Germanic words to describe the animals. I'm no linguist, so I might have made some mistakes, but that's the gist of it.
posted by MadamM at 7:31 PM on April 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


Related: List of Germanic and Latinate equivalents from Wikipedia.
posted by MadamM at 7:34 PM on April 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


Well, if we are going the fake route, there is always the entertaining story of the etymology behind the word "fuck".
posted by msali at 7:44 PM on April 3, 2010


The word "mullet" was coined by the Beastie Boys.
posted by Damn That Television at 7:48 PM on April 3, 2010 [3 favorites]


I was told by a Mexican tour guide that "Yucatan" derives from the Mayan phrase for "I don't know what you are saying."

It's the response the Europeans got when they arrived and asked (in their own language) "What is the name of this land?"

No idea if this is true, but it's a good story, and I'll keep telling it until I'm proven wrong.
posted by gnutron at 7:50 PM on April 3, 2010


"Cretin" is from the Swiss French meaning "Christian."
posted by coppermoss at 7:51 PM on April 3, 2010 [2 favorites]


This may not be quite what you're looking for, but as the Samuel Johnson guy, I have to mention this story. A woman asked Johnson why, in the 1st edition of his dictionary, he had defined pastern as the knee of a horse.

Johnson replied, "Ignorance, madam. Pure ignorance."
posted by Horace Rumpole at 7:54 PM on April 3, 2010


I love that the word "nylon" was coined by the Du Pont company - whick invented it in labs in New York and London.
posted by visual mechanic at 7:56 PM on April 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


Another funny-fake etymology: "posh" is an acronym of Port Out, Starboard Home, the more expensive ship's cabins when traveling from Britain to India on the P & O Lines. (A popular etymology, but no evidence to support it.)
posted by exphysicist345 at 7:57 PM on April 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


My understanding was that "glamour" derived from magic, especially of the sparkley kind.
posted by StickyCarpet at 7:57 PM on April 3, 2010 [2 favorites]


As you can see, there some debate on this, still, I prefer magic.
posted by StickyCarpet at 7:59 PM on April 3, 2010


From Jeopardy, March 19 2010: This disparaging word for an out-of-the-way place comes from the Tagalog for "mountain".
What is "boondocks"?
posted by crazylegs at 8:08 PM on April 3, 2010


The word "indri" is a corruption of the Malagasy word "indry", meaning "there" or "there it is."
posted by scruss at 8:09 PM on April 3, 2010


"gamut" is a contraction of "gamma ut", where gamma referred to the lowest pitch that was given a distinct name, and ut refers in general to the first note of a musical scale (as in do-re-mi; people generally now use "do" instead of "ut" for the first scale degree). Eventually it came to mean the entire spectrum of musical pitches, and then the entire spectrum of anything.
posted by dfan at 8:13 PM on April 3, 2010 [2 favorites]


"island" was originally "iland", without an s, but the s got added in post hoc because people expected it to look like "isle".
posted by dfan at 8:14 PM on April 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


The word "mustang" derives all the way back to the Latin word "miscere" (to mix). Its main influence was the word "mesta" an association of livestock owners in Spanish Castile. See full etymology here.
posted by hiteleven at 8:16 PM on April 3, 2010


I like the history of "tawdry," which is supposedly derived from "St. Audrey's Laces," a type of (apparently cheap & showy) necklace that was sold at long-ago fairs Ely, England, commemorating a Saint Audrey (d. 679). She was "a Northumbrian queen and patron saint of Ely, who, according to tradition, died of a throat tumor which she considered just punishment of her youthful liking for neck laces".
posted by lisa g at 8:17 PM on April 3, 2010


There are some fun ones mentioned so far. I had forgotten about Nylon. Another of my favourites is the French word "dinde" which means turkey. It came from saying "viande d'inde" (meat from India, where India meant the Americas). After awhile, it just became "dinde".
posted by fantasticninety at 8:18 PM on April 3, 2010


I learned this today from the book The Professor and The Madman (a good read for the etymologically inclined). The Persian name for Sri Lanka was Serendip, and there was a fairy tale about the Three Princes of Serendip who were always happening upon interesting things. The English word "serendipity" was coined by Horace Walpole in reference to the fairy tale in a letter to a friend.

"Boycott" was the name of an absentee landlord in Ireland that everyone hated so much that they stopped serving him beer at the pub and wouldn't deliver his mail. Which is kind of funny when you think that today a boycott refers to the reverse (i.e., how patrons treat business).

"Sesquipedalian" means one and a half feet and it comes from the Greek belief that words have feet. Ok, maybe not but a professor told me so it must be true.
posted by stinker at 8:22 PM on April 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


A little more straightforward than many of the excellent stories here, but I've always loved the etymology of disaster, from unfavoring stars:
1580, from M.Fr. desastre (1564), from It. disastro "ill-starred," from dis- "away, without" + astro "star, planet," from L. astrum, from Gk. astron (see star). The sense is astrological, of a calamity blamed on an unfavorable position of a planet.
posted by cirripede at 8:39 PM on April 3, 2010 [3 favorites]


I like etymologies that seem the wrong way around. Lenses were called that because they were shaped like lentils. Brazil is named after brazilwood.
posted by mendel at 8:42 PM on April 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


along the lines of nylon, "warfarin," the blood thinner, is from Wisconsin Alumni Research Fund (WARFarin).

"Zounds!" is from "God's wounds."

I also like that sanction can be its own opposite.

Lots of words like "factory" and "factotum" and "factitious" are eventually from the Latin "facere" -- "to make or to do."

The El Alamein is "The The The Amein," which rocks.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:53 PM on April 3, 2010 [2 favorites]


The n thing is pretty common -- orange, apron, adder etc. It happened in much the same way when you get something like Anne to Nancy (Mine Anne to My Nan). The other direction gets you things like newt. Napkin seems unlikely to have gotten an n that way because I believe it's from French, where there is still an n (and it's related to apron which lost its n).

Pea used to be the mass noun pease (as in porridge hot, porridge cold), but we interpreted the sound at the end to be plural. We also did that with cherry from cherise (borrowed from French), then got around to reborrowing the word once it had changed spelling (maybe) and pronunciation (definitely) in French (to cerise).
posted by jeather at 8:58 PM on April 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


When old-timey Germanic people were out drinking, they supposedly would cry out "gar aus!" (all empty!) when their cups needed refilling. I was taught in a linguistics course that this entered English via French as "to carouse", and via German as "to grouse" (grumble, complain).
posted by Hlewagast at 9:22 PM on April 3, 2010


Etymology Dictionary! Have fun!
posted by iamkimiam at 9:23 PM on April 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


I love that the word "nylon" was coined by the Du Pont company - whick invented it in labs in New York and London.

Unfortunately not true.

This will probably not be appropriate for your Language Arts class, but my English teacher in high school taught us that quaint and cunt were used interchangeably in Chaucer's time.

Also mentioned in the paragraph above the one I linked to is the fact that many streets in England that are currently named Grope or Grape Lane were called something like Gropecunt Lane before the 16th century, a name that faded away after the word began to be understood as an obscenity.

Sorry that my examples are both extremely vulgar!
posted by invitapriore at 9:30 PM on April 3, 2010


Starve used to mean to die of any cause, hound used to refer to any type of dog, and deer used to mean any beast or animal, but they all became specialize over time.

Poodles were named after the German word for "puddle" (I just learn this today on Dogs 101 and confirmed it later) probably because they were originally hunters and retrievers.
posted by patheral at 9:34 PM on April 3, 2010


"This will probably not be appropriate for your Language Arts class, but my English teacher in high school taught us that quaint and cunt were used interchangeably in Chaucer's time."

I was under the opinion that the words weren't the same but that Chaucer was being, if not punny, then at least, well, bawdy – they're Middle English homophones.
posted by The Bridge on the River Kai Ryssdal at 9:46 PM on April 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


impression, under the impression

sheesh
posted by The Bridge on the River Kai Ryssdal at 9:47 PM on April 3, 2010


Honcho, as in "head honcho" is derived from the Japanese "han" or unit, and the captain being a "han-cho" (although I'm unsure what the "cho" part actually means - I believe it's numeric but I'm probably wrong). Today in Japan, school kids are taught to walk together in a tight formation called a han (like ducklings!!), and the leader often carries a little flag so the others can follows.

The origin of the word "bistro" in French to denote a place that sells food (particularly small, relatively quick meals) dates from the time of Tsar Alexander's capture (or liberation, depending on your point of view) of Paris and the deposing of Bonaparte in 1814. Russian soldiers attempted to speed up food service by yelling "Bystro! Bystro!!" or "Faster! Faster!" at the cooks. Well, it's one story.
posted by ninazer0 at 9:52 PM on April 3, 2010


Check to see if Altered English is in your local library--it's a whole dictionary full of the sort of thing you're looking for. I brought it to class for my adult literacy learners and they really got a kick out of seeing how much familiar words had changed over the centuries.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 9:53 PM on April 3, 2010 [4 favorites]


There are a lot of great answers here; too many to cite as best answer. If people think of others, please place them here as I already have a fortnight's worth (fourteen nights) of great words. Thanks everyone! Big thanks as well to hurdy gurdy girl for the book reference. I shall definitely get a copy of that.
posted by fantasticninety at 10:07 PM on April 3, 2010


"Girl" used to mean a child of either sex.

Similar to the Yucatan story, "kangaroo" was supposedly an aboriginal word for "I don't know" that the aboriginals said to the arriving colonials. Kangaroo if that's true though.

"Gerrymander" was an insult thrown at a Massachusetts governor named Gerry by a newspaperman after the governer redrew the electoral districts and made one look like a salamander.

"Okay" has several debated etymology stories, summarized here at Wikipedia. I have also heard it said that "okay" is the most commonly used word in the World and I can believe it, as speakers of any language I've yet talked to always understand this word.

Protip: anytime someone says that an old word was coined as an acronym for something, (like the mentions above for "shit" and "posh" and the false story that "golf" meant "gentlemen only, ladies forbidden"), they're very probably wrong.
posted by meadowlark lime at 10:15 PM on April 3, 2010


Canada really means “It’s a village, dummy.”
posted by Hardcore Poser at 10:22 PM on April 3, 2010 [3 favorites]


"island" was originally "iland", without an s, but the s got added in post hoc because people expected it to look like "isle".

(From Q.I) I think it was originally spelt "ijland"; borrowed from Norwegian. It was changed to island to look more like some latin word. Also the word "ski" was also borrowed from Norwegian and was pronounced "shee".
posted by mataboy at 10:27 PM on April 3, 2010


Yeah, as StickyCarpet says, that understanding of the Grammar -> Glamour shift is not exactly correct. Along the way it became Scots gramarye meaning magical, as in "occult learning" (since "grammar" used to be a study with much more of a mystique about it). I don't think "Glamour" ever meant high-falutin' until the modern era.
posted by koeselitz at 10:37 PM on April 3, 2010


I loooove etymology.

Once an italian girl explained the origin of the term "barbarian" to me. "Is it because people from barbados weren't look upon with much esteem?" Hah, no. Only because when you hear people speaking a language you don't understand it just sounds like they are saying "bar bar bar bar" to each other, thus the name.

After learning this I started looking into perjorative racial terms, whose origin tends to be pretty interesting as well as possibly indicative of the time they were coined. "Chinks" were so named because of the sound of their hammers while building the American railroads. "Spics" due to the fact that the common reply from someone whose native language is spanish trying to explain that they don't speak English ("no speak") sounds like "no spic." The word "gook" may mean a person of Asian descent, but in their language when they describe someone of a particular nationality they say something like "american country person," with the word for "country" being "gook" (at least in Korean and Vietnamese and maybe even Japanese to an extent) and most likely the most recognizable term. So when they see foreigners and point them out as such, that would be the first thing foreign ears pick up on.

A fun one in Japanese is the origin of the word thief. Nowadays the word is written 泥棒 (dorobou) meaning "muddy stick." ("bou" like the "Bo Staff" that Donatello of the ninja turtles wielded. Cool huh?) Muddy stick doesn't really have anything to do with thievery other than the fact that the word "stick" sounds like "priest." So the original "thieves" were the dirty priests back in the day that sold salvation, and grew visibly wealthy from it, written 泥坊 but pronounced the same way.

I think my favorite I heard in Latin class, and in my opinion is the ultimate piece of trivia. I have no clue as to the veracity of this, but our Latin teacher told us that back in the day outside of Rome there was an inn/tavern at the intersection of the three main roads leading to/away from the city. People would gather here and drink and talk about the inconsequential happenings of the day. The inn was named for the fact that it was at this confluence of these three roads (three = tri, road = via): TriVia.
posted by GooseOnTheLoose at 11:05 PM on April 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


According to the Dictionary of American Regional English, "cock" was once a vulgar term for a vagina.
posted by ethnomethodologist at 11:55 PM on April 3, 2010


My personal favourite is the demijohn, from the French "Dame Jeanne" or "Lady Jane". I was told, more years ago than I care to admit, that this was a reference to the wasp waist and spreading hips of the fashionable shape of the vintner's wife.
posted by aqsakal at 12:18 AM on April 4, 2010


"Guy" comes from Guy Fawkes.
posted by mohrr at 1:32 AM on April 4, 2010


Also from The Professor and the Madman is "bedlam", which I particularly enjoyed:

It was a shortened way of referring to the Bethlem Royal Hospital, a London psychiatric hospital then known for its cruelty, and thus, lots of noise and madness from crazies.
posted by disillusioned at 1:36 AM on April 4, 2010


The El Alamein is "The The The Amein," which rocks.

El Alamein being the Egyptian town? Wrong breakdown then. It would actually be "The Two Flags":

- For starters there is no "The" seeing as thats an English word, the Arabic name is "El Alamein".

- El does indeed mean "The" and it is pretty common to have it preceding city/town names in Arabic. So that would give us "The Alamein"

- El/Al are interchangeable, yes [actually it would be Il/El/Al since its just a phonetic difference when transliterating from Arabic depending on the perceived accent]. This would be the source of the confusion here I suppose. You've broken down Alamein into Al Amein which gives you "The [El] The [Al] Amein". You can't do that though since Alamein is a single word and the "Al" here isn't a prefix connoting "The" it is part of the root of the word "Alam" [flag] from which "Alamein" is derived [two flags].

The problem here derives from the fact that in Arabic the first "A" in Alamein is actually a different letter ['ayn] than the "A" in Al [aleph], there is no English equivalent though so they both get transliterated the same and lose the meaning along the way.

Sorry for the derail.

I'll contribute to the thread with a word which will keep us with the Arabic theme of my post: Assassin. Derived from the Arabic word Hashashin, which was the derogatory name given to a sect of Levantine Muslims in the Middle Ages. The Hashashins didn't have a conventional army and they struck their enemies [crusaders, Muslim political elite] with commando raids and high-level assasinations. Hashashin itself is the plural of Hashash: "one who uses Hash", i.e: Stoner.
posted by xqwzts at 3:29 AM on April 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


There are lots of neat scientific etymologies: the "barn" which is used to measure cross-section (area) in particle accelerators comes from the expression "as big as a barn".
posted by alby at 4:49 AM on April 4, 2010


My favourite:
'Saelig' (OE) - blessed, touched (by god) i.e., demonstrating behaviour that indicated such becomes 'silly' in current-day English
posted by meosl at 5:46 AM on April 4, 2010


"The" El Alamein is a battle that took place at the village (I don't really know why it gets a "the" in English but it does) -- so it's at least The The two flags.

On the words that got more specific over time, "corn" in American English refers to maize, but "corn" in British English means any kind of small grain of something -- like corned beef, where "corned" refers to the coarse salt grains. That corn is more specific in American than British English occasionally still leads to amusement; a British friend of mine went to make cornbread which all her American friends raved about, and the recipe just said "corn flour" so she got regular flour and couldn't understand why her biscuits came out all weird and not delicious or yellow like the picture. We laughed and pointed out she needed MAIZE flour, and she was like, "Oh, man, DUH!" Her second batch was perfect! :)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:13 AM on April 4, 2010


I heard this on Car Talk so it must be true. Venetian glassblowers back in time would toss their messed up art glass pieces in a big pile off to the side; the resulting shards were said to be only suitable for making bottles. Over time the Italian word for bottle became synonymous with "colossal failure". That word is, of course, "fiasco".
posted by TedW at 7:54 AM on April 4, 2010


The fiasco one is a goooooood one!
posted by fantasticninety at 8:24 AM on April 4, 2010


My favorite little possibly word fable. By the High Middle ages merchants and members of the middle classes where getting rich enough to send their kids to University - something normally reserved for the nobility, so much so that the records had a spot for what rank or title the student held. When all these untitled students came in, they wrote sine nobilitate without nobility in that box. Over time sine nobilitate became snob.
posted by The Whelk at 8:41 AM on April 4, 2010


*possibly fake
posted by The Whelk at 8:42 AM on April 4, 2010


If you like interjections, you can check out the book Zounds! Some of the information is dated (I don't think anyone says "fiddle-dee-dee" anymore) but there's still some good stuff in there.
posted by patheral at 8:47 AM on April 4, 2010


'Saelig' (OE) - blessed, touched (by god) i.e., demonstrating behaviour that indicated such becomes 'silly' in current-day English

From the book ”The power of Babel”:

In Old English, the word that became silly meant "blessed". Just as wanting to do something implies that one will do it, blessedness implies innocence. That kind of implication led people to gradually incorporate innocence into their conception of the word, and through time innocence ended up becoming the main connotation rather than the "definition 2" one, just as one sound gradually becomes another one through shades of the new sound gradually encroaching on the original one. Thus, by the Middle Ages, silly meant "innocent": about 1400, we find sentences such as Cely art thou, hooli virgyne marie. If one is innocent, one is deserving of compassion, and this was the next meaning of the word (a 1470 statement: Sely Scotland, that of helpe has gret neide), but because the deserving of compassion has a way of implying weakness, before long the meaning of silly was "weak" (1633: Thou onely art The mightie God, but I a sillie worm). From here it was a short step to "simple" or "ignorant," and finally silly came to mean "foolish"- having begun meaning "sanctified by God"!
posted by martinrebas at 9:09 AM on April 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


From an article about insulting last names:

Michael Adams, a professor of linguistics at Indiana University, said researchers have come across names in old records like "John the Bastard."
And while most Bastards have since found an excuse to change their name, other no-less-insulting surnames remain fairly common.
Indeed, there is a whole category of names that are believed to have been given to children abandoned to orphanages - including the French name Jette (meaning "thrown out"), the Italian name Esposito (meaning "exposed") and the English name Parrish (meaning someone who was raised at the expense of the community.)
"I think people took the view that there was nothing they could do about it," said Patrick Hanks, editor of the Dictionary of American Family Names.
[...]
On the bright side, those with insulting last names at least have some rather esteemed company.
"Shakespeare is probably an obscene name, originally, for a masturbator," said Hanks.

posted by martinrebas at 9:16 AM on April 4, 2010


Mayday, the emergency word used by aviators, comes from the French m'aider, meaning "help me".

Cleave is its own opposite.

Bill Bryson has some fun etymologies in his book The Mother Tongue. Take it all with a grain of salt, though.
posted by wwartorff at 9:30 AM on April 4, 2010


The French word for a transom window is "vasistas," which sounds like "was ist das?" (German for "what is that?"). Supposedly they were uncommon in Germany and get their name because of Germans asking about them during the Franco-Prussian War.
That's what I heard in high school, but now that I think about it, "vasistas" sounds more Spanish than French.
posted by kirkaracha at 10:05 AM on April 4, 2010


Boondocks, from the Tagalog bundok which means mountain.
posted by AceRock at 10:06 AM on April 4, 2010


Protip: anytime someone says that an old word was coined as an acronym for something, (like the mentions above for "shit" and "posh" and the false story that "golf" meant "gentlemen only, ladies forbidden"), they're very probably wrong.

There are exceptions, e.g. "To Insure Proper Service"
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 10:39 AM on April 4, 2010


Oooh, the Mayday one is a really good one. Those are the best; so simple, yet so powerful.
posted by fantasticninety at 10:45 AM on April 4, 2010


re: TIPS -- um, no. For starters, it would be ENsure, not INsure. But see Wikipedia on the etymology of tips.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 10:51 AM on April 4, 2010


Damn, and I got that out of one of those pop-etymology books, too.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 11:00 AM on April 4, 2010


There are exceptions, e.g. "To Insure Proper Service"

Nope, that one is fake too.
posted by nasreddin at 11:09 AM on April 4, 2010


oops.
posted by nasreddin at 11:10 AM on April 4, 2010


Crud appears to be a metathesis of curd, which appears to have been a metathesis of crud.
posted by Askr at 11:50 AM on April 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


Once an italian girl explained the origin of the term "barbarian" to me. "Is it because people from barbados weren't look upon with much esteem?" Hah, no. Only because when you hear people speaking a language you don't understand it just sounds like they are saying "bar bar bar bar" to each other, thus the name.

Barbaros was latin for "foreign," from Greek.
posted by cmoj at 12:04 PM on April 4, 2010


"The" El Alamein is a battle that took place at the village (I don't really know why it gets a "the" in English but it does) -- so it's at least The The two flags.

Interesting. I've only ever heard it referred to as "the battle of El Alamein" [although technically it seems it should be "the First/Second battle of El Alamein"] Is this an Americanism? Do other famous battles/locations get the same treatment? [the Waterloo?]

Back to etymology:

- Avocado comes from the Aztec ahuacatl which to the Spanish conquerors sounded like abogado [Spanish for lawyer/advocate] so that's the name that spread throughout Europe. To the Aztecs the fruit was named for its shape, ahuactl means testicle, which the fruit's shape resembles.

- Canary comes from Canary Islands [not the other way around]. The Canary Islands themselves were named Islas Canarias by their Roman discoverers, where Canarias refers to Canis [dog] related to the large number of dogs on the islands and the dog-worshiping cult located there.
posted by xqwzts at 12:04 PM on April 4, 2010


In Sweden, March 25th is Waffle Day.

From Wikipedia:

In the Christian calendar, Lady Day is the traditional name of the Feast of the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin (25 March).

In Sweden, tradition holds that on March 25th, one eats waffles. In Swedish, 'Our Lady' translates to 'Vår Fru'. This has later been contracted into 'Vårfru', and then, through language drift, into 'våffel', the Swedish word for waffle.

posted by martinrebas at 4:00 PM on April 4, 2010


Denim comes from "de nimes"--Nimes was the French town where the fabric was manufactured.
posted by asras at 4:11 PM on April 4, 2010


This might not be exactly what you're looking for, but I've always like the explanation of how the Picketwire River in Colorado got its name.
posted by koeselitz at 4:34 PM on April 4, 2010


"Is this an Americanism?" I don't think so ... I think it's just a one-off, or perhaps an old-fashioned usage that hung on to a couple of battles. I know there are a couple of other odd things where the definite article hangs on where it seems like it oughtn't, but of course on the spot I can't think of a single one! (If I think of one, or hear one this week, I'll come back with it.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 4:40 PM on April 4, 2010


Barbaros was latin for "foreign," from Greek.

Yes, but that the original explanation was still correct - the Greek word "barbaroi" meant non-Greeks, and is thought to be 'echoic of unintelligible speech of foreigners' (compare the root sanskrit word barbara = stammering).

I learned this in an archaic Greek history course, but several online sources back me up*
posted by Solon and Thanks at 4:48 PM on April 4, 2010


Sesquipedalian actually comes from a list of "five-foot words" written by Horace, who was lampooning the use of overlong words in Latin.

On a similar tack - floccinaucinihilipilification is a blast, especially if you're a Latin geek.

Tawdry is still the very best etymology out there, though.
posted by Oxydude at 7:46 PM on April 4, 2010


And "jeans" comes from Gênes, the French name for Genoa, where sailor's clothing was made out of rough blue fabric called denim, sourced by asras above.

As for surnames, Italy abounds in fascinating ones. Other than Esposito as mentioned by martinrebas upthread, and which is very Neapolitan, there's Diotallevi - "may God bring you up" - and Del Prete (or just Prete nowadays) - "[son|daughter] of the priest". But the Rome phone book lists several members of a family called D'Ignoti Parenti - literally "of unknown parentage". When I stumbled across that I felt huge admiration for anybody who had the courage and sense of history to insist on keeping this as a surname.
posted by aqsakal at 11:56 PM on April 4, 2010


I didn't go back far enough!
posted by cmoj at 5:49 AM on April 5, 2010


I also like that sanction can be its own opposite.

Impregnable, too. The fortress was impregnable and so was the princess.
posted by StickyCarpet at 2:34 AM on April 6, 2010


"Ciao" was shortened from the phase "sciào vostro," which was an expression of friendship in old Venetian dialect--literally, "I am your slave."

"Zany" comes from "Zanni," a dialectical variant of the Italian name "Giovanni" (equivalent of John). Zanni was a servant in Commedia dell'arte.
posted by hydrophonic at 12:06 AM on April 7, 2010


Goodbye comes from a contraction of "God be with ye".
posted by mysterpigg at 2:12 PM on April 7, 2010


> "The" El Alamein is a battle that took place at the village (I don't really know why it gets a "the" in English but it does)

I have never seen it referred to that way, and a Google search confirms me in my conviction that that usage, if it exists outside your household, is very restricted indeed. The battle is always called El Alamein, no "the." (Of course, people talk about "the El Alamein Line," "the El Alamein area," etc., but that's completely different: "the" modifies the following noun.)
posted by languagehat at 4:38 PM on May 5, 2010


Things I have heard:

Escape comes from Latin ex cape because when thieves were grabbed by people trying to arrest them, they would loosen capes they were wearing (and the arresting person was holding) in order to, well, escape.

Husband comes from the Greek work husbonda, which means, in Greek, master of the house. Sorry about that feminists.

And oh yes, I love me some etymology.
posted by elder18 at 9:16 AM on May 6, 2010


(Of course, people talk about "the El Alamein Line," "the El Alamein area," etc., but that's completely different: "the" modifies the following noun.)

Where the following noun is "line," "area," etc. "El Alamein" is essentially an adjective there.

Which I think is where "the El Alamein" comes from. It's (battle) understood. C.f., (You) understood.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 10:36 AM on May 6, 2010


elder18: “Husband comes from the Greek work husbonda, which means, in Greek, master of the house. Sorry about that feminists.”

Not Greek. Old Norse.
posted by koeselitz at 11:28 AM on May 6, 2010


> Which I think is where "the El Alamein" comes from.

Once again, I do not believe this expression exists outside of your immediate circle. If you can find me evidence that other people use it, I'll change my mind.
posted by languagehat at 12:46 PM on May 7, 2010


I wasn't even claiming it exists in my immediate circle (although I could have sworn I heard that construction at some point,) I was just noodling through how it could exist at all.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 8:29 PM on May 8, 2010


'Pakistan' is an acronym.
posted by tellurian at 10:25 PM on May 13, 2010


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