The English language developed from an Anglo Saxon base of common words. It was first spoken in early medieval England is now one of the most popular and commonly used language in the world. The modern English language has assimilated words from a number of other languages and the oxford English dictionary lists about 250,000 words. It has words that have originated from common words, household words, parts of body, animals and natural elements. The study of English words is known as etymology which might be a bit boring for you if you fiddle around with it for too long but it is also one of the most sought after and studied areas of research as more and more English words keep getting added and new words discovered every day. A lot of words that we use in our everyday lives have weird origins which might surprise you so I have compiled a list of such words and remember some of these words had deeper meanings in the past.
I’m sure when a lot of us wake up in the morning groggy and craving breakfast we reach out for the nearest cereal box. Have you wondered where this word originated from? Its origins might actually surprise you. It was first recorded as an English word meaning ‘of or relating to edible grain’ in 1818. It is derived from the French word céréale which can be traced back to the Latin word cerealis which means ‘of grain or relating to the cultivation of grain’. This Latin word originated from the name of the roman deity, “Ceres”, Goddess of agriculture. Little did she know that her name would come to be associated with words like “Kellogg’s’ or ‘rice crispies’ or ‘cornflakes’. The word “cereal’ in the sense of being used as ‘breakfast cereal’ was first used in 1899 and also comes from the ancient Greek god ‘Cere’ which means barley mother.
Now this is a very common word which came in to the English language from French who took it from Latin. The word alcohol is originally derived the Arabic word ‘al-kuhl’, where ‘al’ is the Arabic definitive article and ‘Kohl’ meaning a fine powder used as an eyeliner and for eye makeup. The word was originally used for the very black powder fine powder that was produced by the sublimation of certain sulfides which was then used as an antiseptic, eyeliner and cosmetic for eye makeup. Well, kohl is produced by vaporizing and then cooling a solid substance and alcohol similarly involves distillation of a liquid instead of a solid. So over the years, it began to be used for any substance obtained by distillation including alcohol of wine, or the distilled essence of wine. The word was added to modern chemistry in 1850.
The word geek according to the thesaurus is used to refer to a ‘person who is foolish, inept of clumsy, or a person who is scientifically and technically accomplished but is socially inept.’ We all know the meaning, the internet is full of them and I’m sure we all have one geek amongst our friends who is always incessantly chatting away about his computer games and math problems but that doesn’t mean they are stupid. In fact geeks are considered to be smart and intelligent, only problem being they are socially inept. But did you know the word geek was actually used to refer to a circus sideshow freak? The circus used to be a very popular source of entertainment in the US during the 18 and 19th century and travelling circuses would organize ‘geek shows’ that would have people performing some bizarre or dangerous acts like biting the head off a live chicken. The word is also thought to have been derived from the Greek word ‘geck’ which basically means a stupid person which is far from the usual notion of a geek being an intelligent person.
This popular delicacy has a surprising origin. It is actually an old fashioned phrase used to refer to nudity or nude women in photos and films. It comes from the fact that a woman’s skin appears the same creamy color as cream cheese. In 1934 Time magazine defined the term as ‘leg pictures of sporty females’. Since during the 1930’s this was way forward than the usual modern standards, the genre was called cheesecake and it featured attractive young women clad in skimpy shorts or small skirts. In its early years, the term cheesecake was also associated with the popular actress Marlene Dietrich who was celebrated for her glamorous and exotic looks. Who would have thought it would end up referring to the delicious creamy delight? Weird indeed!
It might surprise you to know that the word ketchup actually has Chinese origins and originally had no tomatoes. During the 16th century the Chinese used to make a concoction of fish sauce consisting of fish and spices called “kôe-chiap” or”kê-chiap” meaning the brine of pickled fish or shellfish. By the 18th century it was commonly used in the Malay states that are the modern Malaysia and Singapore where it was discovered by British explorers. They loved it so much that they took it home.The word used in those days for the sauce was kĕchap and it evolved into the English word ketchup. But how did it end up being tomotoe-y and sugary rather than intial fishy taste? The recipe for ketchup changed over the last few centuries and tomatoes were only added during 1800 and sugar much later.So the next time you dab some of it on your fries , remember to thank the Chinese !
The word addiction according to the thesaurus today means ‘psychological or physiological need for a habit forming substance or any other thing, for that matter.’ It is actually derived from the Latin word ‘addict’ which means to deliver, award, yield, give assent, sell and ‘to devote, sacrifice or consecrate’. It also traces its origin back to the ancient Roman law where it meant the legal surrendering of an individual or a person as a slave to a master. Ancient Romans used to have slave camps where Roman masters would choose slaves and this practice was called addiction. Over the years, it became associated with the habitual behavior that made a person slave to drugs or alcohol or basically to just about any other thing.
Everyone knows that prostitutes are colloquially referred to as hookers. There are many theories about the origin of this word and it appeared at the earliest in the second edition of John Russell Bartlett’s “Dictionary of Americanisms,” published in 1856 who defined hooker as “a strumpet or a sailor’s trull. The other theory is that during the American civil war, there was a charismatic general called ‘Fighting Joe’ Hooker who was a drunkard and a womanizer and allowed a number of female whores or prostitutes in his camp. They came to be known as hooker’s women or hookers for short. Since then it has been associated with a person or a lady who is a prostitute who hooks or ensnares her clients or simply someone who hooks, well using less tangible means.
This internet slang which is an abbreviation for ‘Laughing out loud’ was recently added to the Oxford English dictionary. Used in everyday life, you’ll find this word in abundance, used by celebs, tweens, teens almost everyone on Facebook ,twitter and other social networking site, basically to express their delight at something funny or remotely funny. You’ll see people using it after almost every sentence as LOL or even LOLZ. However, it was not created online on the internet, in fact according to Wikipedia the word was actually used in letter writing for ‘lots of luck’ or ‘lots of love’. The word was originally used by Wayne Pearson in Calgary, Alberta, Canada who says he wrote the words LOL in reply to a gag . It was also used in 1960 to denote ‘little old lady’.
What do you say when you pick up the phone or meet someone new or greet and old friend? Hello!!?! But in its usage the word hello is relatively new only appearing during the 18th century. The words were actually used during the 15th century to attract someone’s attention and cease whatever he or she was doing and the word Hallo was also used to incite hunting dogs. Not many people know that Alexander Graham Bell, when he invented the telephone proposed the use of the word ‘Ahoy’ to greet a caller but not many used it. A lot of us familiar with The Simpsons might have seen the evil billionaire Montgomery Burns using the term ‘Ahoy hoy’ while using the telephone. Hello-girls was also the name for the central telephone exchange operators. We might think that the word hello is old as time but it was only recently used in 1827 and it was not used to greet each other but to attract someone’s attention.
This commonly used term popular among today’s teenagers is actually a 100 years old. The word is actually very last century although you might think that it must have been coined by the modern youth to express horror or delight, embarrassment or excitement or gasp at something. British admiral John Arbuthnot Fisher first used it in a letter that he wrote to Winston Churchill in 1917. Lord Jacky fisher as he was popularly known first used it in his letter to the British Prime Minister Churchill about some ‘utterly upsetting world war I headlines’. He wrote: ‘I hear that a new order of Knighthood is on the tapis — O.M.G (Oh! My! God!)— Shower it on the Admiralty!!’ OMG which is an abbreviation for OH MY GOD was added to the oxford English dictionary and was thought to have originated in online chat rooms. Apparently Not.