Archive for Etymology


Gneiss is one of those words that I have a hard time not making jokes about. I’m in the midst of labeling my photos from a 2014 trip to the British Museum. In most cases, I took a photo of a piece of art and then took a photo of the nearby explanatory card, but […]


I learned some years ago that the kiwifruit was formerly known as the Chinese gooseberry; I had read that sales in the US went way up when importers started using the new name. More recently, I was in the supermarket and I happened across a fruit labeled as goldenberries. I had seen them for the […]


Turns out that the word farthing, for the coin once worth a quarter-penny, derives ultimately from the Old English fēortha, meaning one-fourth. (According to MW11.)


Occurred to me recently to wonder about the word cooties. According to Wikipedia: “The word [cooties] is thought to originate from the Austronesian language family, in which the Philippine languages, Maori and Malaysian-Indonesian word kutu refers to a parasitic biting insect. The earliest recorded uses of the term in English are by British soldiers during […]


I was surprised just now to learn that the word heroin derives from the trademarked name Heroin, and that the latter name was based on the Latin for “hero,” because the drug made users feel like heroes. I initially assumed that that was folk etymology (remember: etymology by sound is not sound etymology), but the […]

Learning Spanish terms via etymology and cognates

As I’ve been slowly learning Spanish via Duolingo, I’ve found the large number of cognates between Spanish and English very useful. Sometimes, false cognates get in the way; the most common example I see of that is the word embarazada, which English monoglots may assume means “embarrassed,” but which instead means “pregnant.” But setting aside […]

Is it esculent?

esculent: edible, fit to be eaten According to dictionary,com, it originates in the 1620s, from L. esculentus, from esca “food,” from PIE *ed- “to eat” (see eat). (Link and usage examples here) I saw it a while back and hadn’t gotten around to following up on the idea that it would make a great first […]