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Some Words You Might Not Know the Origin of

There are many words in the English language that are misused. Many more are often used correctly, however people often don’t know the story behind the word; in other words, where the word came from.

Here are a few of these words.

Quarantine

Quarantine is a word that comes from the French word, ‘Qarante’, which means 40. In the days of the old sailing ships, if a ship entered a port and was suspected of being infected with something. nobody ashore was allowed to have contact with anyone on the ship or its cargo for 40 days. Thus, it was quarantined.

Disaster

This is a word that comes from Greek and their propensity to blame anything and everything on the planetary positions as well as those of the stars. “Dis” means bad and “aster” means “star’. So disaster literally means “bad star”. In other words, this word came from the practice of following horoscopes.

Sarcasm

Sarcasm is from another Greek word. We might say that a sarcastic statement is one that is biting and mean, but the Greeks took it a step farther. The word comes from the Greek “sarkazein”, which literally means “to tear flesh”.

Girl

I’ve mentioned this one before. This is from an old German word, “Gor” The meaning of Gor is “child” and all children were girls. This word was not originally gender-specific, so little male children were also girls.

Hazard

Hazard is a word that comes from Arabic. Specifically, the Arabic word is “al zahr”, which means “dice”. Hazard came to its current meaning during the Crusades because dice were connected to gambling.

Nice

Before you use the word nice the next time, think about what you are meaning to say. Nice is actually Latin for “ignorant”.

Lukewarm

The word lukewarm is actually a redundant word. In Middle English, Luke meant “warm”, so lukewarm would translate to “warm warm”.

Avocado

It is rather interesting, the languages that have added to English. Avocado came from the word “ahuacati”, which is a word in the Nahuatl language. Ahuacati means “Testicle”. This probably has something to do with the shape.

Sycophant

Here is another word with Greek origins. In the time of the ancient Greeks, figs were so important that it was illegal to export them. A person who reported someone who smuggled figs was a sycophant. ‘Suko’ means figs and “phantes” means a person who reveals something, so sycophant literally means “fig revealer”.

  • Did you know the origin of any of these words?

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Written by Rex Trulove

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      • Indeed. The Romans greatly admired the Greek culture that they absorbed and took many of their ideas and customs on board. Cultivated Romans tended to speak Greek among themselves rather than Latin – this showed off their superior education and the fact that they were a cut above the mere “plebs”.

        • I should have added that words with Greek origin that have entered the English language usually did so via Latin rather than directly from Greek. And the Latin influx did not come because of the Roman invasion under Emperor Claudius but thanks to the later invasion of William the Conqueror and the introduction of Norman French, with its strong Latin roots. Roman culture had far less impact on the native English than the Norman culture did.

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