The Story of Some Frequently Used Words in English Academy
This word is used in the context of institutions being linked with each other from the point of view of their management or financial resources. A college, for example, can be affiliated to a university or a small business organization can be affiliated to a much larger business organization.
This technical term of business administration has a metaphorical origin, however. It is derived from the Latin word filius, which means “son”. So when we say that a small organization has been affiliated to a larger and more powerful organization, we are in fact saying, in the etymological sense of the word, that the large organization has adopted the small organization as its son.
Affluent, Influence, Fluent:
All these three words have their origin in the visual image of water flowing all around. Each of these words is derived from the Latin fluo meaning “flow”. An affluent person in that etymological sense is a person to whom money flows from all sides. If someone is a man of influence, it means that his resourcefulness and his respectability flow all around him. Similarly, if a person can speak fluently, it means that his way of speaking has a smooth and spontaneous flow in it.
This word is derived from the Arabic expression al-kohl, al meaning “the” and kohl (vulgar pronunciation of kuhl) meaning “antimony” used for painting the eyelids. The modern sense of alcohol (highly rectified spirit) is derived from the analogy of the fineness of the antimony powder used for painting the eyelids.
These days this word refers to that branch of mathematics in which quantities are represented by letters and signs. The etymology of this word tells us, however, that in ancient days this word referred to the skill of uniting what is broken. In many cases, it referred to the art of setting broken bones. In support of this meaning of the word algebra, Funk (1988) quotes the historian, Halle, as saying the following:
This Araby worde Algebra sygnifyeth as well fractures of bones as sometyme the restauration of the same.
Alpha is the first letter of the Greek alphabet and beta is its second letter. The names of these two letters, alpha and beta, were put together to make the word alphabet.
Amazon, we know, is the name of the largest South American river. This American river was named after a race of female warriors, who, according to the ancient Greek historian, Herodotus, lived in Scythia. The legend about these women was that they had cut off their right breasts so that in the battlefield they could shoot arrows without any difficulty.
This word is derived from the Latin term ambitio meaning “go round”. In ancient Rome the use of this word was confined to politicians whose characteristic activity was to go round most of the times, making speeches and soliciting people’s support. With the passage of time this word has lost part of its uncomplimentary connotations. Besides, this word can now be used not only for politicians but for anyone having a strong desire to achieve something.
This word is a contraction of “sal ammoniac”, the Latin expression for “the salt of Ammon”. The salt of Ammon from which the gas called ammonia (NH3) was later obtained was so called because it was first found in the dung of camels near the temple of Jupiter Ammon in Libya.
This word refers to the coiled shell of an extinct mollusc. These shells are so called because they resemble the involuted horns of Jupiter Ammon.
In most cases, this word refers to a compilation of poems, essays, short stories, etc., written by one or more authors. This word is derived from the Greek word anthologia, which consists of two word-elements, anthos (flower) and lego (gathering). Thus the etymological meaning of the word is “flower gathering” or “a bouquet of flowers”. So the scholar who is compiling an anthology of poems, essays, etc., is in that etymological sense like a florist preparing a bouquet of flowers.
A herb or chemical that acts as a sex stimulant is called aphrodisiac. It was believed at one time in the past, for example, that the plant called mandrake was aphrodisiac. The word aphrodisiac is derived from the name of Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love and beauty. This Greek goddess is often considered identical with the Roman goddess, Venus.
Atlas was the name of a Greek demigod who with his legendary powers was supposed to be holding the earth and the sky apart. When the sixteenth century Flemish geographer named Mercator got his maps published, he used, as the frontispiece for his collection of maps, the picture of Atlas holding the earth on his shoulders.
Since then the word atlas started being used as the general word for any collection of maps and it became customary for publishers to print the figure of Atlas on the cover page of such collections.
The word atom is a word of Greek origin. It consists of two word elements, a- (not) and -torn (cutting). It is common knowledge these days that an atom can be split into protons, electrons and neutrons. The etymology of the word still tells us about the mistaken scientific belief held until a few decades ago that the atom was the smallest particle of matter and therefore could not be divided into smaller particles.
To atone is to make amends for the mistakes that one has made or to feel sorry for the sins that one may have committed. In olden days the use of this word was confined to the religious discourses. In modern English usage this word can be used in non-religious contexts as well. Etymologically, to atone is to be “at one” with (God), i.e., to be in harmony with His wishes. Atonement in that sense is equivalent to at-one-ment.
Bacteria and Bacillus:
The word bacterium is derived from the Greek word bacterion, which means “a little stick”. When bacteria were first observed under the microscope, they looked like little sticks and that is why they were given this name. Sometime later, scientists discovered another form of tiny vegetable organisms. These organisms were a bit larger than bacteria and were, therefore, given the name bacillus, which means “a rod”.
The origin of this word can be traced back to the Italian word ballotta, the diminutive form of balla meaning “ball”. So, the etymological meaning of the word ballot is “a small ball”. These days a ballot is in the form of a piece of paper with the help of which we secretly indicate our support or otherwise for a candidate’s claim to be elected to a position of power or responsibility and a ballot box is a box into which such pieces of paper are dropped. In ancient Greece, people used small balls of stones for this purpose.
These small balls were either black or white. If a person wanted to support a candidate, he dropped a white ball into the ballot box but if he did not like that candidate, he dropped a black one. The system of using small balls for purposes of voting has disappeared altogether but the history of that system of voting is permanently preserved in the etymology of this word.
The banian tree is the name of an Indian tree whose branches come down to the ground and take root. The English word banian (also spelt as banyan) is the Anglicized form of the Hindi word bania meaning “shopkeeper” or “trader”. Banian trees were so called because, during the British rule, shopkeepers, peddlers and hawkers used to sell their wares under the shade of a banian tree.
In compound words like wash-basin, the word basin refers to a round pot of metal or porcelain. This word seems to have been derived from the Roman word bachinus, which meant “an eating bowl”. During the Middle Ages, this word was used for cone-shaped metal helmets used by knights in the court of Charlemagne, the king of the Franks in Western Europe.
The word bless is a word of Anglo-Saxon origin. It has been derived from the Old English word bletsian, which meant “to consecrate with blood”. The etymology of this word refers to the ancient Norse custom of blessing someone by sprinkling on him the blood of an animal sacrificed to please a deity. With the passage of time the word bletsian changed into blessan, which was later shortened to bless.
The meaning of the word also changed along with its form. The grisly connotation of blood and of animal sacrifice that this word had in olden days disappeared and it acquired some of the pleasant connotations of the word bliss. When we bless a person these days, our intention is to wish him comfort and happiness. Etymologically speaking, however, to bless a person is to bathe him in the sacrificial blood of an animal.
This word is derived from the Old French bougette, the diminutive form of bouge. The French word bouge is derived from the Latin word bulga, which means “a leather bag”. During the Middle Ages, it was typical of traders, particularly French traders, to carry their money around in a budget, “a little bag”.
The word budget has undergone radical changes of meaning since then and now it refers to a statement of the probable income and expenditure estimated by an individual, a business firm or a government. We must not forget, however, that when a minister presents a budget in the parliament, he is in a sense only opening his leather bag.
In modern English the word bridal refers to a wedding feast in which different varieties of food and drinks are served. This word is formed of two Old English words, bryd meaning “bride” and ealu meaning “ale”. So although different types of alcoholic drinks are served in a bridal of these days, the origin of this word still reminds us of those early days when ale was the usual drink on such occasions.
The origin of this word takes us back to the Old French bugle derived from the Latin word buculus, the diminutive form of bos (cow, ox). In olden times the musical instruments we now call bugles were made from the horns of wild oxen and that is why they were called “bugle horns”. Later, horn, the second part of the name for the musical instrument, was dropped and people started using the truncated expression bugle for bugle horns. Bugles are no longer made of the horns of a wild ox; they are made of brass or copper instead. But the history of how these musical instruments called bugles were made earlier is still preserved for us in the etymology of this word.
This word is used for plain white fabric made from cotton. This kind of fabric is so called because it was originally imported from Calicut in South India.
The origin of the English word candidate can be traced to the Latin word candidatus, the earlier meaning of which was “clothed in white”. Later this word acquired the meaning of “a seeker after office”. The original meaning of this word reminds us of the fact that in ancient Rome when a candidate went out to canvass for support for himself, he made it a point to wear an immaculately white toga with the purpose of creating a good impression about himself. The word candidate and the word candid are etymologically related.
According to modern English usage a candid person is a person who is frank and straightforward. In this modern sense of the word, a person can be candid in spite of his clothes being red or blue or even dirty. This is because in a metaphorical sense a candid person is supposed to be white and pure.
The noun caprice refers to people’s whims, to their sudden unaccountable turn of mind. There seems to be no unanimity regarding the etymology of this word. Hoad (1986) seems to be of the opinion that this word is derived from the Italian word capricci meaning “horror”. Trench (1979:35), on the other hand, is of the firm view that this word is derived from the Latin word capra, which means “a goat”. Even Hoad agrees, however, that the modern meaning of this word is a result of its association with capra. So when we talk about the capricious behaviour of a person, we seem to imply that that person is behaving in unexpected and unaccountable ways like a goat.
This word is derived from the Latin adjective cerealis, which means “of Ceres”. Ceres was the name of an ancient Roman goddess, the goddess of harvest. In 496 B.C., Rome and particularly the countryside around Rome, had no rain. It was customary in Rome during those days to consult an oracle for the solution of all such problems.
So the Roman people approached an oracle to find out what they could do to overcome the situation created by that terrible drought. The oracle interpreted the drought as a divine curse and said that if the Roman people wanted a good harvest, they should offer a sacrifice to a new goddess called Ceres. Since then Ceres became established as the protectress of harvest and the Roman farmers started sacrificing the first cuttings of the harvest to her every year.
This word has its origin in the game of chess; it is derived from the Persian word shaah (king). Similarly, the word checkmate used in the game of chess is an Anglicized form of shaah maat, which means that the king is defeated or unable to escape.
The word chemist(ry) has its origin in the Greek word alchemy. Alchemists were people who wanted to discover a technique for converting base metals into gold. Alchemy is etymologically linked with al-kimia, the Arabic expression for this kind of search for gold.
This word has a metaphorical origin. It is derived from the Latin word clovis meaning “nail”. A clove, as we know, looks like a nail and so its name is because of its shape.
The word college has its origin in the Latin word collegium. The two segments that constitute this word are col (with) and lego (choose). Thus the etymological meaning of this word is “chosen together”, the idea being that in a college one is chosen along with others.
The word consider is composed of two Latin word elements, cum (with) and sidus (star). In modern English consider is used as a neutral word with no astrological connotations at all. The etymology of this word tells us, however, that in ancient Rome when people wanted to consider the desirability of doing something, they took into account the position of stars at that time.
This word is composed of two Lain lexemes, con (together) and spirare (breathe). It seems to have been coined on the basis of the imagination that when conspiring against someone, conspirators whisper so closely to each other in the dark that they almost breathe together.
Cordial, Accord, Discord, Record:
These words are all derived from the Latin cord meaning “heart”. A cordial welcome, therefore, is a hearty welcome and in the context of drinks a cordial (in British English) is a drink that pleases one’s heart. When we shake hands cordially, we do it with sincere feelings in our heart. If we reach an accord, it means that our hearts are in agreement.
If there is a discord in the family, it means that the hearts and minds of the members of the family are not in harmony. Perhaps the word record is etymologically the most fascinating of all the words in this group. This word takes us back to those primitive days when people did not know how to write and, therefore, recording something meant learning it by heart.
This word is derived from the French expression couvrirfeu meaning “cover fire”. The origin of this word takes us back to the middle Ages when the law in certain parts of Europe required that all domestic fires and lights be extinguished immediately after the ringing of an evening bell.
Dahlia, as we know, is a garden plant with flowers remarkable for their exotic shape and colour. This flower is a native of Mexico and Central America and is believed to have been introduced in Britain sometime late in the eighteenth century.
A daisy, as we know, is a small white flower with a yellow centre. As is evident from the following lines, Chaucer described this flower as “the eye of day”.
That well by reason it men callen may The daisie or else the eye of day.
Chaucer’s description is not only poetically elegant but also etymologically accurate. This word is derived from an Old English expression that means “the eye of the day”.
Days of the Week:
Sunday has been named after the sun and Monday has been named after the moon. The word Tuesday has been derived from the Old English word Tiu, sometimes written as Tiw, the name of an ancient Teutonic war god, identical with Mars, the Roman god of war. Wednesday has been derived from the Old English word Woden, the name of another Teutonic god, the god of storms, similar to the Roman god, Mercury.
The Germanic god was the father of Tiu. So Wednesday was named after the father and Tuesday after the son. Thursday was named after the Germanic god Thor, the god of thunder, the Germanic equivalent of the Roman god, Jupiter. Friday was named after the Germanic goddess, Frigg, the Germanic counterpart of the Roman goddess Venus.
This Germanic goddess was the wife of Woden. So Wednesday in that sense was named after the husband, Friday after the wife and Tuesday after the son. Saturday seems to be a translation of the Latin Saturni dies, the day of Saturn. Saturn was the Roman god of agriculture.
These days this word is used in the context of university education in expressions like “the Dean of the Faculty of Education”, “the Dean of the Faculty of Engineering”, and “the Dean of Students’ Affairs”. Little do we realize when using this word in its modern sense that in ancient Rome it was used for an army commander of a division of ten. Later, this word was adopted by the church and referred to a clergyman functioning as the head of ten monks in a monastery.
This word is derived from the Latin decanus and ultimately from the Latin word decern, the Latin word for ten. December and dean are thus linguistic cousins in the sense that both of them are derived from the same root. These days a dean can be the head of a faculty consisting of dozens of members of the academic staff but etymologically speaking a dean is the head of only ten members of the staff.
In arithmetic, this word means “figures from 0 to 9”. This word is derived from the Latin word digitus which means “finger”. The etymology of this word is thus reminiscent of the ancient habit of counting with the help of fingers.
This word is derived from the Greek word diplous, which means “double”. A diploma nowadays is in the form of a single sheet of paper but the etymology of this word still reminds us that at one time diplomas were in the form of folded sheets of paper. Diplomats were so called because it was on the basis of such folded certificates awarded by their governments that they could prove their identity or their credentials.
As we know, in modern English, the word disaster refers to a great misfortune or suffering like a serious defeat in a war or a big earthquake or a devastating cyclone. We hardly ever realize when using this word that its meaning has its origin in the belief that the unfortunate happenings in our lives are caused by stars being in an adverse position for us. The word disaster is derived from the Latin dis- (against) and astrum (star), the assumption being that disasters are caused by evil stars.
This word is not a native English word, it is a word borrowed from Latin. The Latin word doctor is derived from the Latin doctus meaning “teach”. The word doctor in Latin and, similarly in the early stages of the English language, was used for a learned man, irrespective of whether he was a man of medicine or philosophy or some other subject. It was towards the end of the Middle Ages that this word started being used more particularly in the context of a man of medicine or surgery.
The word dollar in its present spelling was used for the first time in the seventeenth century. In the sixteenth century it was spelt as dolor or as doler. In the sixteenth century coins were made from silver obtained from the silver mines in Bohemia.
The mint for making these silver coins was in Joachimsthal and the coins made in that mint were known as Joachimsthaler. Joachimsthal was the German equivalent of the English “Joachim’s valley”, Joachim being the name of a place in Czechoslovakia and thai being the German word for a valley. Later, Joachimsthaler was shortened to the word thaler. After sometime this word thaler was written and pronounced as dollar.
This word takes us back to those early days of Roman rule when slaves were bought and sold like an ordinary saleable commodity. Soon after the negotiation for the sale of a slave was finalized, the master had to perform a certain ritual to formalize the deal. When he bought a slave, he put his hand on the head or shoulder of the slave to say that he had formally taken possession of that slave.
This commercial ritual was called mancipium, “taking possession by hand”. After he had received the price for the slave that he had agreed to sell, he performed the ritual of taking his hand away from that slave to declare that he was formally handing over the possession of that slave to the buyer.
This ritual was called emancipatus, i.e., disowning the possession by formally taking away his hand from the body of that slave. The word emancipation has been derived from that Latin word emancipatus.
Entomology is that branch of zoology that studies insects. The word entomology has its origin in the Greek word entomos which means “cut up”. If we carefully examine the body of an insect, a bee or an ant, for example, we will find that its body seems to be cut up, i.e., to be divided into sections. Entomology has been so named because of this shape typical of insects. The word insect is derived from the Latin word insectum having the same meaning as entomos.
In expressions like “a fault in the design of the experiment” the word fault means “shortcoming” or “drawback”. Seldom do we realize when using this word that it has its origin in hunting, hunting particularly with hounds. In the language of hunting, fault was originally a word used for a dog’s loss of scent resulting in a hunter’s losing the trail. With the passage of time, the meaning of this word was extended so much that it has now become a synonym for “error”.
Foolscap paper is so called because at one time it bore the design of a fool’s cap as its watermark. During the reign of Charles I of England similar paper bore his court of arms but in 1652 Cromwell replaced this with the cap and bells of the fool.
The modern English adjective frank meaning “candid, honest, and straightforward” has its origin in the word Frank used for a Germanic race that conquered Gaul during the fall of the Roman empire.
The Franks, who combined the qualities of character of both the Romans and the Germanic race, became well-known for the quality of being frank, open and straightforward. Thus the adjective frank originally meant “like the Franks”. Later, the use of this word was not confined to the Franks; it became a general adjective that can be used in the case of anyone possessing the quality of honesty and straightforwardness.
Furlong is a unit for the measurement of distance and nowadays it refers to 201 metres, i.e., the eighth of a mile. During the early Old English period this word was spelt as furlang and it referred to the length covered by furrow made by a farmer when ploughing his field.
As the furlong at that time was understood in terms of a furrow, it was not an exact unit of measurement. By the end of the eighth century the distance denoted by this word was stabilized and it became an exact unit of measurement.
Geranium is a garden plant with white, pink or red flowers. The etymology of this word can be traced back to the Greek word geranos (crane). This flower was so named because its seed pot looks like the bill of a crane.
In modern English, giddy means “dizzy”. Someone who feels giddy feels unsteady. He feels that he is about to fall over. The present meaning of the word, however, is very different from its etymological meaning. This word is derived from the Old English word gidig, which means “possessed by a god”.
Because of the unfortunate terrorist activities in many parts of the world, the word grenade, and particularly the compound word handgrenade, are often used in news reports and the grenade, therefore, at once evokes in our mind a feeling of terror and violence. Little do we realize when thinking about the present connotation of this word that it has a fascinating metaphorical origin referring to the world of fruits.
This word is derived from the second part of the word pomegranate, the name of a tropical fruit. The grenade seems to have been so named because when it explodes, its shells spread all around like the seeds of a pomegranate.
Gymnos, the Greek parent of the word gymnastics means “naked”. In ancient Greece, athletes practised their physical exercises in the nude because like the sunbathers of today they believed that nudity was good for health. The Greek physician Hippocrates supported this view about nudity.
In modern English the word hermaphrodite is used as a technical term referring to a person, animal or flower having both male and female reproductive organs. Hermaphrodite is the modernized form of Hermaphroditns, the name of a legendary figure of Greek mythology.
This legendary figure was the exceedingly handsome son of Hermes and Aphrodite. Hermes, his father, was a handsome Greek god and Aphrodite, his mother, was the Greek goddess of beauty, love and romance.
When a nymph called Salmacis saw Hermaphroditus bathing in her pool, she fell in love with him at first sight and wanted to marry him. Hermaphroditus turned down her proposal of marriage, however. So Salmacis prayed to the god that she should be bodily united with Hermaphroditus in an inseparable and indivisible manner.
Her prayer was granted and she bodily became one with Hermaphroditus, their combined figure being like that of the ardhanarishwar of Indian mythology. Biologists found the name of this combined figure a suitable label for living organisms having bisexual characteristics.
The etymological meaning of this word is “liquid”. Humour and humid are etymologically related. For about two thousand years, scientists thought that the soundness of mind and body depended on a proper mixture of four humours or liquids. These four liquids were phlegm, blood, yellow bile, and black bile. It was thought that the proportion of these four liquids differed from person to person and that was why different persons had different physical and mental characteristics.
This English word is derived from the Latin word hysteria (womb). Some people in the past believed that the womb was an unfixed organ and that hysteria was caused by the fact that this unfixed organ moved freely in the abdomen and thus upset women. Since the womb was considered to be the cause of hysteria, it was believed that men could not be hysterical. So when Freud said that men too could be hysterical, he had to meet a lot of opposition.
This word has its origin in one of the superstitious beliefs of the ancient Romans. Before deciding upon a course of action, the Romans generally consulted priests (called augurs) who could predict their future for them and say whether the gods would look upon that course of action with favour.
The word originally meant “to make a formal beginning by consulting omens”. From the point of view of their etymology, therefore, inaugurate and augur (in expressions like “it does not augur well”) are linguistic cousins.
The word laboratory was first introduced into the English language in the seventeenth century. Sometime in the nineteenth century, lab, the abbreviated form of this word, started being used in addition to the full form of the word. This word has its origin in the medieval Latin word laboratorium, which means “a place where one labours”. Etymologically, laboratory is thus a place where one labours hard to formulate and elaborate one’s ideas.
In modern English, the word lady, like the word gentleman, is a word of respect. It refers to women who belong to an upper social class and who are capable of acquitting themselves well in society. During the early stages of the Old English period, however, the meaning of this word was not that respectable.
The Old English form of this word was hlafdige, the literal meaning of which was “a woman who kneads”. One of the important duties of women during those days was to knead the flour for making bread. It was because of this that women were called ladies. The job of man was to earn bread for the family and that is why he was called hlafivard, meaning “guardian of the loaf”. The modern English word lord is an etymological descendent of that Old English word.
The suffix -ly is derived from the same Old English word from which the preposition like is derived. Manly, for example, means “like a man” and womanly means “like a woman”. So, etymologically speaking, there is a built-in redundancy in the word likely. It means “like like”.
In Roman mythology there is a goddess called Luna. Luna is the moon goddess who was believed to be responsible for madness in human beings. For a long time there was a wide spread superstition in many parts of the world that madness was in some sense related to the moon. That superstition has now virtually disappeared but the etymology of this word will always remind us of that superstition.
The word malaria was first used in English in the eighteenth century. This word is composed of two word elements: the Latin mal (bad) and the Late Latin aeria (air). The etymology of this word keeps reminding us of the old mistaken belief that malaria was caused by bad air coming from marshy places.
A marathon is a race in which the participants have to run about 26 miles. This word is also used as an adjective to refer to events which take a long time and are very tiring. This word can, for example, be used in expressions like “a marathon press conference” and “a marathon dance”. Marathon is the name of a place and the history of the word used in its present meaning reminds us of the battle of Marathon, which took place in 490 B.C.
In this battle a small army of only ten thousand Athenian soldiers defeated a huge Persian army consisting of about one hundred thousand soldiers. A courageous Athenian undertook the task of running from Marathon to Athens to convey the thrilling news of the victory and completed the task successfully. So, when the Olympic Games were revived in Athens in 1896, the 26-mile race included in those games was named Marathon race in memory of that Athenian runner.
The origin of this word is not absolutely certain but it is considered very likely that this flower was named after Virgin Mary because of its purity and after gold because of its beautiful golden colour.
The word marshal has been derived, probably through French, from the Latin word mariscalcus meaning “a horse attendant”. With the passage of time the meaning of this word was elevated in status and the term Field Marshal is now used for the highest officer of the army and the term Air Marshal is used for the highest officer in the air force. In American English, the word marshal refers to a police officer who controls a particular area or district.
The word mint is derived from the Latin word moneta, the epithet of Juno Moneta, the Roman goddess of maidenhood and the guardian of the finances. The mint was so called because it was in the temple of Juno Moneta that coins were made for the first time in Rome.
Mirror, Miracle, Admire:
Each of these three words is derived from the Latin word mirari, which means “look out”, “wonder” or “praise”. When a young girl looks at herself in a mirror, she does that in a mood of wonder and admiration, finding herself to be no less than a wonder.
Similarly, when we experience a miracle, we experience a sense of wonder. These three words are, therefore, not only etymologically but also semantically linked, though the semantic links are not apparent but rather subtle.
Juno Moneta, the Roman goddess of maidenhood, was also the goddess of warning, and the Romans felt grateful to her for her warning them in time against dangers to come. So, as a token of their gratitude and their devotion, they built a temple for her on the Capitoline Hill. When the first mint was established for making coins, the Romans installed the mint in the temple of Juno Moneta. As has been mentioned earlier, Juno Moneta was the goddess of warning, the Latin word for warning was moneo and so that is how money got its present English name.
A monk is a person who withdraws himself from the common stream of society and leads a lonely life of religious vows. Similarly, a monastery is a place where monks live alone and not with the members of their family. Both these words are derived from the Greek word monos, which mean “alone”. Monogamy, monologue, monopoly and monotonous are all words derived from the same root.
Months of the Year January:
This month was named after Janus, the ancient Roman god of doors, entrances and beginnings. Janus had two faces, one that gazed to the past and the other that looked to the future. Thus, the name of this month provides an appropriate description of its place in the annual calendar because in this month we bid farewell to the year that is past and at the same time we welcome the New Year ahead. The ultimate source of January is the Sanskrit root ya (to go).
The word February is derived from februa, the Latin word for a thong (i.e., a whip made of goatskin) used on the occasion of the ancient Roman festival called Lupercalia. This festival was dedicated to Lupercus, the god of fertility and it used to be held on 15th February every year in the cave near the river Tiber.
The priests leading the festival cut thongs from the hides of the goats sacrificed in that cave and young men called luperci ran about the city to beat barren women with those thongs, the belief at that time being that if a barren woman was beaten with those instruments of purification, she would be cured of her barrenness. This festival is said to have survived only until about A.D. 500 but the etymology of the word February will preserve the history of that festival for ever.
The month of March was named after Mars, the Roman god of war. The beginning of March coincided with the beginning of the spring season in Rome. The Romans were a martial race and for them the spring season was an ideal time for waging a war. That is probably the reason why the Romans dedicated this month to Mars, the god of war.
The word April has a poetic origin. It is derived from the word Aprilis, which is based on aperio, the Latin word for “open”. In Italy, April is the middle of the spring season, the time when thousands of buds all around start opening themselves into beautiful flowers remarkable for their ravishing colour and fragrance.
This word has its origin in the name of the Roman goddess Maia, the daughter of Faunus and the wife of Vulcan. Later on, this Roman goddess was identified with the Greek Maia, the daughter of Atlas and the mother of Hermes.
The month of June has been named after the Roman goddess Juno. Juno has always been considered to be the protectress of women and that is probably one of the reasons why June is such a popular month for marriages in Europe.
The month of July was named after Julius Caesar. July was the month of Julius Caesar’s birth and so Mark Antony, the famous Roman general and friend of Julius Caesar, proposed that this month should be named in his honour.
After Caesar was treacherously murdered by Brutus, Cassius and his other friends and admirers, it was felt that the least that the Roman people could do to commemorate him would be to immediately implement Antony’s proposal and to name the month of his birth after him. So they named this month July during the same year in which he was assassinated. In the initial stage this word was spelt as Julie but later it acquired its present spelling.
After the assassination of Julius Caesar, Octavius, his nephew, became the first emperor of Rome. His ambition was to acquire the fame and glory of his uncle and so he wanted one of the months of the year to be named after him just as July had been named after his uncle. The month of his birth was September but he did not want that month to be named after him.
The month he chose for this purpose was the month preceding September; his reason being that it was in that month that the Roman senate had conferred on him the title of Augustus in recognition of the valuable services he had rendered to the people of Rome. So, as desired by him, the month preceding September was named Augustus. Later on the word Augustus was abbreviated to August.
September, October, November and December:
The names of these four months are based on Latin words for numerals. September, for example, begins with the Latin word septum, which means seven and October begins with the Latin word octo, which means eight. Similarly, November begins with the Latin word novem, which means nine and December begins with the Latin word decern, which means ten.
This leads to an apparent anomaly in the sense that although September is the ninth month of the year, its etymology creates the impression that it is the seventh month. We all know that October is the tenth month, November the eleventh month and December the twelfth month of the modern European calendar.
The study of etymology shows, however, that October ought to be understood as the eighth month, November as the ninth month and December as the tenth month of the year. This is because of the fact that before the time of Julius Caesar the Roman New Year started with the month of March and not with the month of January.
This word refers to delicately woven cotton fabric used for ladies’ dresses, curtains and the like. This kind of cotton fabric was named after Mosul, a city in Iraq, because it was originally made in that city.
The word nausea is derived from the Greek word naus, which means “ship”. So, etymologically, nausea means sickness caused by travelling on a ship. With the passage of time the meaning of this word became much wider and now it refers to sickness caused by any kind of travel whether by air or by bus or by ship.
The word nice is derived from the Latin word nescius. Nescius consists of two word elements, ne (no) and sci (know). Sci is from the same root from which the word science is derived. Because of this derivation, science meant “knowledge” and nice meant “ignorant”, the opposite of “knowledgeable”. By the sixteenth century the meaning of the word science became much narrower and it referred not to the totality of knowledge but to that branch of knowledge which is acquired through observation and experiment.
As time passed, the original meaning of nice also changed and in the fifteenth century it meant “coy, shy”. By the beginning of the eighteenth century the meaning of this word changed further and since then it means “agreeable, delightful”. Thus, nice is one of those words in English in the case of which there was a qualitative change from an unpleasant to a pleasant meaning.
Nicotine is the addictive substance in tobacco. This substance was named after Jean Nicotine, who was a diplomat by profession.
Nicotine was so called because it was Jean Nicotine, who, during his period as ambassador to Lisbon, brought from America the seeds of this plant to France for the first time.
When we think of a proverb like, “opportunity knocks once at least at every man’s door”, we imagine opportunity to be a human being knocking at people’s closed doors. However, the etymology of this word draws our attention to a different metaphor altogether. Like the adjective opportune, the noun opportunity is derived from the Latin word portus, which means “a harbour, a port”. Etymologically speaking, an opportune moment is a moment when because of a favourable wind a ship is automatically drawn towards the harbour without any effort on part of its crew.
Orchid is the name of a plant well-known for its beautiful flowers. This word is derived from orchis, the Greek word for testicles. To Pliny and other early botanists the double tuberous roots of this plant looked similar to testicles and that is how orchid became the standard name for this plant.
A panacea is something which can be used as the remedy for all troubles and for all diseases. This word has its origin in the name of the Greek goddess Panakeia. She was the daughter of the Greek god Asclepius, the Greek god of medicine, who is usually represented as a serpent twined around a staff, the serpent being symbolic of eternal youth because it gets a new skin every year.
The word panic is derived from the name of the Greek god Pan, who was partly like a man and partly like a goat. Whenever Pan suddenly appeared from behind a bush, the passerby became panicky, i.e., he became so terrified and confused that either he could not do anything at all or he acted without deciding what to do. So, the etymology of this word refers to the state of confusion and terror created by the sudden appearance of Pan.
Petunia is a garden plant with pink, white or purple flowers. The word petunia is derived from the American Indian word petun meaning tobacco. This flower is so called because botanists saw a striking resemblance between petunia and tobacco plants.
This word is a native English word of Germanic origin. In modern English, this word is used in the context of votes. Polling votes means casting votes and a polling booth is a place where voters cast their votes. In Middle English, however, this word meant “head”. Counting votes during those days was largely a matter of counting the heads of people present in a crowd and that is how this word for head acquired its present meaning.
This word has its origin in the Old English word papa originally derived from the Greek pappas, which meant “father”. The Pope was so called because he was supposed to be a fatherly figure for the followers of Christianity.
In modern English, the word prestige refers to the respect that a person commands because of his achievements or because of his status and influence in society. Little do we realize when using this word in its modern connotation that it is de ived from a Latin word referring to a juggler’s tricks. That early meaning of this word can be found in the following sentence written by a 17th century writer and quoted by Funk (1988:67):
I am not deceived by the prestiges of the imposter.
A robot is an automaton which does the work of a man. With more and more things being mechanized every day, the concept of a robot is becoming more and more important. It is useful to know, therefore, the origin of the word robot.
This word has been derived from the Czech robotnik (slave). Robotnik is derived from the Czech word robota, which means “compulsory work”. What made this word very popular was the play called Rossum’s Universal Robots written in 1929 by a Czech writer called Karel Capek. In this play man-made automatons are so strong and capable that they overpower the human characters in the play.
A robust person is a healthy, strong and sturdy person. Seldom do we realize when using the word robust in its modern sense that it is derived from the Latin adjective robustus, which meant “oaken”, i.e., “firm, hard and strong like an oak”. The Latin word robustus is from robus, an earlier form of robur (oak/strength). Thus the word corroborates and the word robust are derived from the same Latin root and when we corroborate a statement we are in a sense making it strong like an oak tree.
The English word round has been derived from the French word rond and the origin of the French word rond can be traced back to the Latin word rotundus, which means “like a wheel”. So etymologically round means “like a wheel”. Similarly, when we say that a person is round, we are in a sense saying that he looks like a wheel.
In modern English, the word romance has a number of meanings. It can, for example, refer to the relationship of love that exists between two people who are not married. It can refer to the feeling of delight and excitement that one feels when having a nice time with one’s lover or one’s beloved.
Similarly, it can refer to a story of adventure or a story of love between a man and a woman. Little do we realize when using the word romance in any one of these senses that it is etymologically related to the word Rome, the name for the capital city of Italy. This word was derived, through French; from the Latin word Romanus meaning “Roman”.
Sadism is a kind of psychological perversion. The patient suffering from this perversion derives sexual pleasure from inflicting cruelty and pain on his sex partner. This psychological perversion was named after count Donatien Alphonse Francois de Sade (1740- 1814), notorious for his perversion of this type and notorious also for his perverted and pornographic writings.
Sometimes this word is used in a non-technical sense to refer to those people who derive satisfaction (not necessarily sexual pleasure) in inflicting pain on others. A sadist is a person suffering from this perversion.
The word sandwich was coined in the 18th century. It is derived from the designation of John Montagu, the fourth Earl of Sandwich. This Earl was so much addicted to gambling that in one of his 24-hour sessions of gambling he refused to spare any time even for his meals.
His attendants, therefore, had to devise a hurriedly eatable dish for him. So what they did was to put some meat between two slices of bread and the Earl was satisfied to eat this quickly improvised dish because for eating this dish he was not at all obliged to leave his gambling table. Since then this kind of food, i.e., slices of bread with roasted meat between them became known as sandwich.
A scavenger is an animal, a vulture, for example, that lives on decaying flesh. This, however, was not the meaning of this word when it was first introduced into the English language. Nor did this word have its present spelling at that time. At that time it was spelt as scavager. It is not certain how an “n” got inserted into this word and why.
What is certain is the fact that until about the end of the 16th century this word referred not to animals but to inspectors who collected scavage (tax) and kept the streets clean.
Scholars all over the world would perhaps agree that what they need most is ample leisure to pursue their study, and to formulate and elaborate their ideas. It is no wonder, therefore, that the word scholar is derived from the Greek word schole, which means “leisure”. During the period of Greek philosophers like Plato and Aristotle, the word schole started being used for groups of young men being taught by these philosophers. Thus the original meaning of the word was changed and the word school started being used in the sense of an institution where teaching is done.
The word seminar, like the word seminary, is derived from the Latin word seminarium, which means “a seed plot”. This word is etymologically linked with the word semen, which in Latin meant seed. Thus, etymologically speaking, a seminar or a seminary is a seed-pot where the seeds of knowledge are sown or where ideas of a seminal nature are elaborated and examined.
Senate, Senior, Senile:
These three words are very good examples of how lexical items derived from the same root can develop significantly different connotations after a certain period of time. The word senate refers to the governing council of certain universities or the Upper House of the legislative assembly in certain countries, e.g., France.
In ancient Rome this word referred to the highest council of the state. The word senior refers to the quality of someone being older in age, experience, rank or authority. The word senile is an adjective used for those suffering from physical or mental weakness because of old age. All these words, however, are derived from the same Latin root enex, sen- meaning “old”.
in modern English, silly means “foolish” or “feeble-minded”, During the Old English period this word was spelt as salig and meant “happy” or “blessed”. Unsalig meant “unhappy”. This was the first stage in the history of the change and development in the meaning of this word. During its second stage, which was roughly sometime in the Middle English period, this word meant /innocent”, “rustic” and “simple”. During the 16th century, the gleaning of this word underwent another change and since then it means “foolish” and “feeble-minded”.
The word slave, as it is used in modern English, is from the Middle English sclave. The origin of this Middle English word can be traced back, through French, to the Medieval Latin Sclavus, which referred to Slavs, i.e., people of the Slavonic races. The Slavonic races were Conquered many times in history and were reduced to a servile state because of these conquests. Because of this, the image of Slavs in People’s mind became inevitably associated with the concept of slavery and so sometimes around the beginning of the 16th century this word acquired the meaning that it has these days.
this word is etymologically linked with the word spinning. Both these words, spin and spinster, are derived from the same Old English verb spinnan. The etymology of the word reminds us of those early days in Britain when the customary thing for an, in married girl was to spend most of her time spinning yarn necessary for weaving cloth for the family. These days the word spinster is used for unmarried women past the age of marriage. Etymologically, however, a spinster is someone spinning most of the time.
Spoonerism is a defect of speech in which the speaker mistakenly transposes the initial sounds of two or more words in a sentence. If someone uses, for example, the expression “well boiled icicle” for the expression “well oiled bicycle” or similarly, if someone says “Wy mife never hissed your mystery lecture” in place of “My wife never missed your history lecture”, these instances of mistaken speech will be known as instances of spoonerism. Spoonerism is so called because it was characteristic of W.A. Spooner (1844-1930), who was the Warden of New College, Oxford, to make such funny mistakes, particularly at a time when he felt excited.
In modern English usage, the word steward refers to the person who looks after the supply of food in a club or who serves food to passengers in a ship or a plane. At certain times in the history of Britain the post of a steward was a highly elevated post. Until about the middle of the nineteenth century the Lord Steward of the Household in Britain, for example, had the rank of a cabinet minister. The word steward is derived, however, from the Old English stigweard, stig meaning “sty” and weard meaning “warden, or protector”.
To understand the etymological meaning of steward we have, therefore, to take our imagination back to those ancient days when a person’s most important possession was his herd of pigs and so he needed a steward, a watchman, to protect his pigs from thieves and wolves. Thus steward is one of those words in English in the case of which there has been a qualitative upgrading of meaning.
In modern English, symposium refers to a learned gathering in which a number of articles on the same subject are discussed. It can also refer to a collection of published articles on a particular subject. This English word is derived from the Greek word symposion, which consists of sym (together) and pino (drink).
Thus the etymology of this word is reminiscent of the ancient Greek custom of intellectuals having after-dinner sessions in which they drank wine together and also discussed matters of academic importance. Plato’s famous book Symposium is an imagined conversation in an after-dinner session of this type.
To tantalize a person is to raise hopes that cannot be realized. If someone offers you something that you want and so you feel excited about gathering it but then he does not let you have that thing, he is in that case tantalizing you.
This modern word tantalize is derived from the name of Tantalus, a mythical king. This king was condemned to remain thirsty in a pool of water because the water receded whenever he wanted to drink it. He had lots and lots of fruits hanging all around him but he could not eat those fruits because they receded as soon as he wanted to reach them.
The English word trunk is derived from the Latin word truncus meaning “the trunk of a tree” or “the trunk of the human body”. In modern English, the word trunk has more than one meaning. One of its meanings in modern usage is “a large box with a hinged lid and with strong rigid sides”. A large box of this type was called a trunk because in olden days it was customary for such a large box to be in the form of a hollowed out tree-trunk.
The word tulip is derived from the French word tulipan and this French word is derived from the Turkish word tulbend meaning “turban”. Tulips are so called because these flowers with their velvet texture were thought to resemble turbans.
It is customary to eat turkey as a part of one’s dinner on Christmas Day in England and on the Thanksgiving Day in America. When eating the meat of the guinea fowl called turkey on such festive days very few people ever think why this guinea fowl was given this name. The word turkey appears in the writings of Captain John Smith as early as in 1607.
It seems that when the European settlers saw the wild fowls of America after their arrival- in that new country, they mistook them for the turkey cocks and turkey hens in Europe and that is why they started calling those wild fowls “turkeys”. Later it turned out that the American variety of wild fowl was different from turkey cocks and turkey hens but the use of the word turkey for the American variety of fowl continued.
We are all familiar with the word vanilla because of its occurrence in expressions like “vanilla ice-cream” and “vanilla custard”. This word refers to a flavouring made from the pods of vanilla plants grown in tropical countries. The word vanilla is derived through Spanish from the Latin word vagina. The vanilla plant is so called because its pods look like the vagina.
In modern English, the word often refers to a depraved scoundrel. In the context of literature, it refers to the main bad character in a novel or a play. However, this word did not always have this meaning in the past. The origin of this word can be traced back to the Latin word villa referring to a farm or a house in the countryside.
The Old French vilein was derived from this Latin word villa and the Middle English word vyleyn was the Anglicized form of that word in Old French. In Middle English, this word referred to an unsophisticated villager, a peasant who lived in subjection to a lord.
As these peasants were of low birth and had only limited resources, they were understandably assigned a low status in society. It is customary of people to think that if someone is of low birth, he can only be a man of low morals. It was probably because of this mistaken social psychology that the meaning of villain changed from “a rustic farmer” to “a depraved villain”.
The word window reminds us of unforgettable proverbs like the following:
Eyes are the window of the soul.
When poverty comes in at the door, love flies out of the window.
Little do we realize when thinking about the poetic beauty of the image of the window in such proverbs that the metaphor inherent in the etymology of the word window is no less fascinating. This word is derived from the Scandinavian word vindauge, which consists of vindr (wind) and auga (eye). The etymological meaning of this word, therefore, is “the eye of the wind”.
Zinnia is a garden plant with bright coloured flowers. Although this flower is originally from Mexico and the neighbouring areas, it was adopted as the state flower of Indiana. The etymology of this word has nothing to do, however, with Mexico or with Indiana. This flower was named after J. G. Zinn, a German botanist of the eighteenth century.
The zodiac is an astrological concept understood generally in terms of a diagram dividing the sky into twelve parts. Each of these twelve parts has a name and a symbol, most of these names and symbols being the names and pictures of animals like Capricorn (a goat), Aries (a ram), Taurus (a bull), Leo (a lion), Scorpio (a scorpion) and Pisces (fish). One of the twelve parts is symbolized by Libra (scales) and another one by Virgo (a virgin woman).
But the majority of these twelve parts are named after and symbolized by animals. The word zodiac itself is ultimately derived from the Greek word zoion, which means “animal”, the basis of the etymology being probably the astrological belief that the heavens were encircled by a number of animals. The origin of the word zoo, the short form of “zoological garden”, can also be traced back to the same Greek word zoion.