Unlikely couples: 8 pairs of words you didn’t know shared an etymology
Like an extended family with some unsuspected relations, sometimes you come across words which have very different modern-day meanings but unexpectedly share an etymological element in their background.
salad / salary
Salad and salary obviously have a lot of letters in common, but which other word unites the two? Perhaps surprisingly, it’s salt – or, rather, the closely related Latin sal. The origins of salary originally denoted a Roman soldier’s allowance to buy salt (which was valuable, but essential at the time), while salad vegetables were often seasoned with salty dressings in Roman times.
aviation / auspicious
If you’ve got a fear of flying, there may be some sort of comfort in the shared etymology of aviation and auspicious. Both ultimately derive from Latin avis, ‘bird’. It’s not too difficult to see the link between the flight of birds and aviation (‘the flying or operating of aircraft’), but auspicious is potentially more obscure. Auspicious now means ‘conducive to success; favourable’, but comes from the Latin auspex, ‘observer of birds’, from avis + specere, ‘to look at’, as an auspex in Ancient Rome was one who took omens from the flight of birds.
mortify / mortgage
The Latin mors, ‘death’, is at the root of these seemingly unrelated words. This origin can still more or less be seen in mortify, though its current sense ‘cause (someone) to feel very embarrassed’ has softened the late Middle English ‘put to death’. Many may feel their mortgage to be deadly, and the etymology agrees: French mort, ‘dead’ (a derivative of mors) + gage, ‘pledge’. Here, the ‘death’ refers to the pledge ‘dying’ when the obligation (payment) is fulfilled or the property is seized.
arugula / rocket
This salad vegetable is called rocket in Britain and arugula in North America, but etymologists from both countries can at least find a common starting point. Both ultimately come from the Latin eruca, ‘down-stemmed plant’, though rocket takes a circuitous route including Italian ruchetta and French roquette. The more explosive rocket (firework), contrarily, comes from the Italian rocchetta, diminutive of rocca, ‘distaff (for spinning)’ (because of its shape).
hysteria / hysterectomy
The spelling of these words clearly has significant crossover, though their current meanings are very different. While hysteria is ‘exaggerated or uncontrollable emotion or excitement’, a hysterectomy is a surgical removal of the womb. The Greek hystera means ‘womb’, so the origins of hysterectomy are fairly clear (-ectomy comes from the Greek for ‘excision’). As for hysteria, it was once believed that this condition only affected women, and was caused by suffering in the womb.
disaster / astral
Astral means ‘related to or resembling the stars’ and disaster is ‘a sudden accident or a natural catastrophe’: what could they have in common? It isn’t surprising that astral comes from the Latin astrum, ‘star’ (ultimately from Greek), but the link between astrum and disaster is less obvious. All becomes clear when you learn that disaster comes ultimately from the Italian disastro, ‘ill-starred event’ (the prefix dis- denoting things falling apart as in disorder), from the belief that stars governed fate.
corridor / occur
If you’re ever told not to run in a corridor, you can bring out the smart rejoinder that corridor actually means ‘running place’, coming from the Italian correre ‘to run’, a descendant of Latin currere, with the same sense. In English it was originally a military term denoting a strip of land along the outer edge of a ditch, protected by a parapet. The Latin word also underlies the English word occur, from the Latin occurrrere, ‘go to meet, present itself’, from ob- ‘against’ and currere.
metaphor / paraphernalia
Why do both metaphor and paraphernalia have the Greek pherein, ‘to bring, bear, carry’ lurking in their etymology? You have to look a little closer at the words. A metaphor (meta = ‘with’) carries extra meaning with it, transferring meaning from one sphere to another; metaphor is aptly itself a metaphor. Paraphernalia, on the other hand, now means ‘miscellaneous articles’ but was originally the property owned by a married woman besides her dowry. Para is ‘distinct from’ and pherna is ‘dowry’ which, in turn, comes from pherein ϕέρειν, ‘to bring, bear, carry’, for what a woman brought to marriage.