Strange Etymology

Words – we use around 15,000 a day*, but have you ever stopped to think about their origins? From the neatly literal kaleidoscope (from Greek ‘Kalos’: beautiful, ‘eidos’: shapes and ‘scope’: to see) to the terribly prophetic mortgage (from the French for ‘death contract’), let us take you on a journey through the strange and wonderful origins of some of our most frequently used vocabulary.

A topical place to start is quarantine: from the Venetian dialect of the Italian ‘quaranta giorni’ (40 days) – the period ships had to wait on nearby islands during the Black Death to restrict the spread of the plague.

Currently, we are all hoping for a vaccine, which originates from when scientist Edward Jenner used cowpox to make a medicine for smallpox. The name of his new medical procedure comes from the Latin ‘vaccinus’, meaning ‘from cows’.

On to a more interesting area: food and drink! Let’s pace ourselves and start with a nice, relaxing cappuccino, from the diminutive form of the word ‘cappuccio’: Italian for ‘hood’ – surprisingly the perfect colour for a good cappuccino is the brown of the hoods of the Capuchin Monks.

Like to cover your chips with ketchup? Originating in 17th-century China as a sauce of pickled fish and spices, known as ‘kôe-chiap’ or ‘kê-chiap’, it eventually became the name of the tomato based sauce we now consume 650m bottles a year of!

Next time you’re having your trendy avocado toast for breakfast, spare a thought for its origin: the Aztec word, ‘ahuacatl’, which means testicle. Aside from the similar shape, avocados also act as an aphrodisiac!

More importantly for the end of the month, salary is also food based: from the Latin salarium, meaning ‘salt money’. Often referred to as ‘white gold’ in ancient times, it was used as a method of payment in Greece and Rome.

Now onto the hard stuff – from vodka (Russian for little water – no wonder it is consumed in such copious amounts!), to whisk(e)y: medieval monks called it aqua vitae, meaning ‘life water’, which became ‘uisce beatha’ when it was transferred to Gaelic, then anglicized eventually to ‘uisky’ and finally whisky.

I can’t finish without passing on a couple of favourites –oxymoron, literally an example of its meaning (a contradictory term or phrase): oxy comes from the Greek for ‘sharp’ and moron from the word for ‘dull’. And if you thought that OMG was the birthright of teenage texters, think again! In 1917 a certain Lord Fisher wrote to Winston Churchill:


M39ZTZwCih4TX84ZrBcRRVjP9ayn0Dxvke DjSPmULD1LooYlr5GnHqKhhlHlMT91zbL5C6zXcYxpJ7UeBk0gfjCXQNidETtOQ8q VGW3Gbw1z2umFO7JqIT0Gzc38yjfa1glGJ3Uo1eiDrWWQ


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