Category: Word origins

dog

The dog: man’s best friend?

The history of man’s relationship with the domesticated carnivorous mammal Canis familiaris is a long and complex one, and is reflected in the language used across the centuries to describe the dog and its world. The word dog first occurs in Old English, but is less well-attested than the synonymous (and probably more formal and […]

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shoes

Something’s afoot: investigating the names for shoes

Whether you’re a shoe aficionado or somebody who regards footwear as merely something to help avoid standing on nails, you might be interested in the etymological backgrounds to the names of some common varieties of shoe. We’ve taken five of them, and traced their – perhaps surprising – linguistic histories… Clog You probably know that […]

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dragon

Guns, herbs, and sores: inside the dragon’s etymological lair

23 April marks St. George’s Day. While St. George is widely venerated throughout Christian communities, England especially honors him, its patron saint, on this day. Indeed, his cross, red on a white field, flies as England’s flag. St. George, of course, is legendary for the dragon he slew, yet St. George bested the beast in legend alone. From Beowulf to The Game of Thrones, this […]

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chemistry

How did the chemical elements get their names?

Etymologically, chemical elements are in a class of their own. Unlike much of the English language, the names of elements tend to have been chosen by the researchers who first discovered them rather than developing organically over time. There are no rules as to how these names are decided, but the history of chemistry reveals […]

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tax

What is the origin of the term scot-free?

To ‘get off scot-free’ means ‘to get away with something without being punished’. Since the familiar English word Scot refers to a native or inhabitant of Scotland, it is tempting to assume that this is a reference to that country. Indeed, that association seems to have existed since at least the 1500s, when the alternative […]

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W. Tecumseh Sherman

8 words with American Civil War origins

Not only did the American Civil War have immense political ramifications, it also had a major impact on American culture, and even exerted some influence on the language. The following terms all either emerged directly from, or have senses which were directly influenced by, the conflict. 1. Deadline As much angst as the word deadline […]

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baseball jazz

Jazz: an unlikely, but true, American journey

Two very American institutions are celebrated this month. Besides being Jazz Appreciation Month, April also marks the start of the MLB baseball season, which begins this year on 6 April. While at first glance the only thing that jazz and baseball seem to have in common is that both have been the subjects of Ken Burns […]

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blanket

Did Charles Schulz coin the term ‘security blanket’?

Anyone familiar with Charles M. Schulz’s seminal comic strip Peanuts is probably also familiar with Linus Van Pelt and his blue blanket. But even those who have never encountered Linus, Snoopy, and the rest of the Peanuts gang are probably acquainted with the concept of the ‘security blanket’: a ‘small blanket or other soft fabric […]

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