25 Common Words With Really Bizarre Origins

Posted by , Updated on March 7, 2017

Whether you are a linguist or just somebody who is interested in finding out where the words we use everyday came from, this list is for you. Some of the most common words in our vocabulary have the coolest histories. These are 25 Common Words With Really Bizarre Origins!

25

Traitor

loyalty betrayalSource: wiktionary

It has the same root as “tradition” because both involve handing something over (latin tradere, to hand over).

24

Daisy

daisySource: wiktionary, Image: www.publicdomainpictures.net (public domain)

Comes from “day’s eye” because the flower is open during the day and shut during the night.

23

Eavesdropping

eaveSource: wiktionary, Image: commons.wikimedia.org (public domain)

Before the invention of gutters, houses were built with something called eavesdrops that directed rain away from the walls and foundation. These eavesdrops were the perfect spot for someone to hide if they wanted to overhear a conversation.

22

Muscle

mouseSource: wiktionary

Comes from latin “musculus,” or “little mouse.” When doctors were first observing musculature they thought that the muscles looked like little mice running under the skin

21

Helicopter

helicopterSource: wiktionary, Image: commons.wikimedia.org (public domain)

It isn’t actually broken into “heli” and “copter.” In reality, the components are “helico,” meaning “helix,” and “pter,” meaning “wing.” (Pterodactyl comes from the same root.)


20

Apron

apronSource: wiktionary

It actually used to be called a “napron” (old french: nappe, middle english: naperon) but due to the wrong division of “a napron,” it became “an apron.”

19

Tuxedo

tuxedoSource: wiktionary

It comes from the Native American Lenape word for “crooked river.” The reason the dinner jacket is called a “tuxedo” is because they first became popular around Tuxedo Park in New York.

18

Peninsula

floridaSource: wiktionary, Image: commons.wikimedia.org (public domain)

It comes from the Latin prefix pen-, which means “almost,” so a peninsula is almost an island.

17

Candidate

romeSource: wiktionary

Ironically, it comes from the same root as “candid” meaning “bright white” (Latin candidus). In Rome, politicians often wore white togas because they were associated with honesty.

16

Upper and lower case

printing pressSource: wiktionary

These come from a time of hand printing when the letters were literally stored in different cases.

15

Canada

canadaSource: wiktionary, Image: pixabay.com (public domain)

In native languages, the name “Canada” means “our village.” It was chosen to honor the country’s indigenous heritage.

14

Flammable

fireSource: wiktionary

This word is actually derived from “inflammable” which means “able to be inflamed.” Makers of warning labels were afraid that people would think “inflammable” meant “not flammable” so they shortened the word to “flammable.” They both mean the same thing.

13

Tragedy

goatSource: wiktionary, Image: pixabay.com (public domain)

If you break it down, it pretty much amounts to “goat song.” The Greek word for goat is “tragos” and the word for song is “oide.” “Ode” also comes from this root.

12

Dog

dogSource: wiktionary, Image: pixabay.com (public domain)

We aren’t actually sure where this word came from. The Proto-Germanic word was “hundaz” from which German and the Scandinavian languages all derive “hund.” Most romance languages derived their terms from the Latin “canis” (french: chien, portuguese: cachorro). To make things even stranger, there is a completely unrelated Australian aborigine language called “Mbabaram” which is famous among linguists because its word for “dog” is also “dog,” pronounced almost exactly the same as in English.

11

Boonies

mountainSource: wiktionary, Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Mount_Talinis_(Cuernos_de_Negros),_Negros_Oriental,_Philippines_01.JPG

This word referring to a place in the middle of nowhere comes from the colonization of the Philippines. It is derived from the Tagalog word for mountain – Bundok.

10

Guard

guardSource: wiktionary, Image: commons.wikimedia.org (public domain)

It comes from the French word “garde,” which the French had actually derived from the English word “ward.” Since French doesn’t have a “w” sound they changed the “w” to a “g”. So, French basically borrowed a word from English and then English borrowed the same word back. This is why we have the words “ward” and “warden” as well as “guard” and “guardian.”

9

Nice

niceSource: wiktionary

In Old French, the word initially meant “careless, clumsy, or foolish.” People then started using it in a similar manner to “cool”, “bad”, or “radical.” Over the next 400 years, it eventually transformed to its current meaning.

8

Vodka

vodkaSource: wiktionary, Image: pixabay.com (public domain)

In Russian, you form the diminutive by adding “ka” to the end of the word. (For those of you who don’t know, the diminutive is what you use to refer to things that you consider “cute.” English doesn’t really use this construction as much, but an example would be with names e.g. Jim to Jimmy.) To get to the point, the word for water in Russian is “voda.”

7

Cappuccino

capuccinoSource: wiktionary, Image: pixabay.com (public domain)

The coffee is named after Capuchin monks due to the similarity in color between the monk’s robes and the coffee

6

Laconic

spartaSource: wiktionary, Image: commons.wikimedia.org (public domain: author's life + 70 yrs)

Meaning “of few words,” this term comes from the region of Laconia in Greece where Sparta was located. The Spartans were known for using words sparingly. For example, Philip of Macedon sent them this message, “If I invade Laconia, you will be destroyed, never to rise again.” Their response was one word…”If.”

5

Ransack

cabinSource: wiktionary, Image: pixabay.com (public domain)

It comes from Old Icelandic “rann” (meaning house) and “saka” (meaning search).

4

Safety razors

razorSource: wiktionary

They got their name because, perhaps unsurprisingly, anything would have been safer than a knife, which is what most people used at the time.

3

Salary

saltSource: wiktionary, Image: pixabay.com (public domain)

It comes from the Latin word for salt (salaria). This is because Roman soldiers took part of their pay in salt.

2

Sad

dogSource: wiktionary, Image: pixabay.com (public domain)

Like the word “nice,” this term switched meanings. It originally meant something closer to “content” (possibly sharing a root with “satisfy”). Over time, it moved to the opposite end of the spectrum.

1

Goodbye

byeSource: quora, Image: pixabay.com (public domain)

It comes from “godbwye,” which was itself a contraction of “God be with ye.”

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