Etymologically Speaking

What follows is list of some curious word origins. Some of these are English, but some are French and German words from which we get some English words. Enjoy, and please let me know if you know of any other cool etymologies that I ought to add to the list!

Hey all, I just started a new site, all about learning Spanish using etymologies -- I'd love to hear what you think of the site! This is how I taught myself Spanish!


Comes from the Greek word abax, which means "sand tray." Originally, columns of pebbles were laid out on the sand for purposes of counting. See calculate and exchequer.


From Greek allos meaning "other" and agora meaning gathering place (especially the marketplace). In times past, it was common to do one's chatting at the marketplace. Some of the topics discussed were clandestine in nature and when people spoke about them, for fear of being punished, they would speak indirectly. That is to say, they would speak about one thing in such a way as to intimate the actual information to the listener. Thus, the persons discussing clandestine matters were said to be speaking of "other things" in the marketplace. Eventually the words joined and became associated with the act of speaking about one thing while meaning another.

Apple (Eng.)/ Pomme (Fr.) / Manzana (Sp.)

These words, which all mean the same thing, should be explained one at a time, as they come from different sources. In regard to apple, all European languages other than the Romance languages, ie., the great majority of Indo-European languages, including the Celtic tongues, use a word with a root ap, ab, af or av for apples and apple trees: aballo (Celtic), apple(Eng.), Apfel (Germ.), aeppel (Old Eng.), abhal (Irish Gaelic), epli (Icelandic), afal (Welsh), jabloko (Russian), and jablko (Polish). In regard to pomme, this French term comes from the Latin pomum, which originally referred to all fruit. Before Christianity was adopted as the official religion of the Roman Empire some time in the 4th. Century, the Latin word malum (melon in Greek) meant "apple." After the adoption of Christianity, however, and due to the important symbolism of the apple in the bible (ie, the Garden of Eden), the general term pomum, "fruit," was used to describe the apple as "the fruit of fruits." In regard to manzana, this Spanish term comes from the Iberian pronunciation of matiana, a Gallo-Roman translation of the Latin word matianum, which was a scented, golden apple first raised by and named after Matius, a friend of Caesar's who was also a cookbook author ["Apple" Footnote: The French village of Avallon (in the Yonne area), where there are a lot of apple trees, received its name from the legend of the sacred island of Avalon or Abalon, meaning "Apple Orchard"--incidentally, the "-on" suffix is an "augmentative" and explains the origin of the name of the Pacific shellfish "Abalone"--that is, "big apple."].


This term, which comes from the French abricot--and was aubercot until the Fifteenth Century--does not have one simple etymology, but rather a combination of several, involving a considerable juxtaposition of ideas. On the one hand, we have Portuguese albricoque, Spanish albaricoque and Italian albicocca, which all stem from the Arabic al barqouq or al birquq, for the Iberian Peninsula owed much to the Arab gardeners of Southern Spain (Andalusia). The Arabic word means "early-ripe," and itself derives from the Latin praecox or praecoquum malum (in Greek, praecoxon), meaning "early-ripener" and "early-ripening 'apple,'" respectively (see the etymology of "apple"). This was the name given by the Roman legionaries when they first brought the fruit back to Rome, as they were returning from the Near East in the first century. Being easy to eat, it also was called aperitum, "fruit which opens easily," and there is an association with Greek abros, "delicate," for it does not travel well and ripens very quickly. The idea that there was a connection with Latin apricus, "ripe," may have given rise to the "p" in English "apricot," which combines with the French -cot ending. Incidentally, the fruit is Aprikose to the Germans and abrikos to the Russians, but all these roads lead to Rome, from where the term--and the fruit--first spread throughout Europe.


Slaves given to Roman soldiers to reward them for performance in battle were known as addicts. Eventually, a person who was a slave to anything became known as an addict.


From the Italian, "All'arme" -- "To arms!"


This word comes from the Arabic al-kuhl, which originally meant a very fine powder of antimony used as eye makeup. It conveyed the idea of something very fine and subtle, and the Arab alchemists therefore gave the name of al-kuhl to any impalpable powder obtained by sublimation (the direct transformation of a solid into vapor, or the reverse process), and thus to all compounds obtained through the distillation process.


This term, which means "the science of equations" in English--and which conjures up fear in the hearts of most fifth and sixth graders--comes from the title of one of al-Khowarizmi's (see "algorithm") treatises, "Hisab AL-JAHR w'almuqaBAlah" [emphasis added], which means, "Science of Transposition and Cancellation.


This term, which means "rules for computing" in English, comes from al-Khowarizmi (Try saying it fast), an Arab mathematician living around A.D. 825 who completed the earliest known work in arithmetic using Arabic numerals. He was the first to establish rules for adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing with the new Arabic numerals.


In Latin it means "the part that hangs." A human appendix hangs at the end of the large intestine; appendices come at the end of books.


From the old Arabic word "hashshshin," which meant, "someone who is addicted to hash," that is, marijuana. Originally refered to a group of warriors who would smoke up before battle.

Aaron White adds:
You may want to explore the fact that the hashshshins were somewhat of a voodoo-ized grand conspiracy scapegoat cult (the very fact of their existence is impossible to confirm). They supposedly were a secret society (a la the FreeMasons) which was influential in every middle eastern court from Persia to Bangladesh. They were supposedly a brotherhood of assasins, devoted to their caballa and its secrecy, protected by an unlimited number of fanatical followers and unlimited material wealth. Assassination was their favorite method of instituting their power (see the Zoroastrian lore of the eunich priest Arachmenes and his assistance to Darius and Xerxes in their rise to/fall from power). Rumor has it that only the hashshshins were able to survive the hordes of mongol invaders that massacred all people, governments, instituions, etc. in its path, and this only because they were able to infiltrate the asian army's ranks as it surged east and threaten the lives of many important officers and virtually every general (no small feat for an organization that does not exist from several subjugated countries). Usually their threat of death to anyone who opposed them, no matter how powerful, was enough to ensure anyone's complicity with their plans, especially when considering their influence and thus the impunity with which they could act. Also cross-reference that Persian was a mystical, legendary form of marijuana/hashish, rumored to be of unparalleled quality. It is so powerful as to become hallucinogenic and surreal and is said to be on of the ways to attain full-blown buddha-like enlightenment. Even Jerry Garcia and the Grateful Dead had a worhipful reverence/fear for Persian. This substance was used by the hashshshins in their intiation rites as a narcotic to overwhelm and produce complacency in their recruits. Also, having an army of fanatics was even better if they were all addicted to a potent intoxicant of which you are the only source.

Paul Graham adds:
The assassins were a sect of warriors who controlled a number of fortified towns in Persia for about 200 years. On 19 Nov 1256 their leader, Rukn ad-Din, negotiated a surrender with the besieging Mongols. (He was killed soon after.) I know of no evidence that the Assassins infiltrated the Mongol armies and intimidated the commanders. In fact it is hard to see how it would work to threaten a commander of an army in the field. The Mongols did not stay that much longer in Persia anyway.


From the Latin, "asthma," meaning both "asthma" and "oppression." The Latin was derived from the Greek meaning the same.


From "awa guatl," a South American Indigenous word for testicle. The Spanish took this term and used to to refer to what we now call the avocado.


Italian term for "small ball or pebble." Italian citizens once voted by casting a small pebble or ball into one of several boxes.


From the Greek "barbaroi," meaning "babblers," used to mean non-Greeks, i.e., people who didn't speak Greek; from the sound that the Greeks thought they were making: "bar bar bar bar..."


From the Old English "gebed," meaning, "prayer."


Beserk most likely comes from the Old Icelandic "berserkr," meaning "bear shirt." This refers to Scandinavian warriors who wore, quite literally, bear shirts which they thought would render them invincible. I believe the Icelandic term evolves from Scandinavian, "bjorn sherkr," but I am not sure.

Big Apple

"The term, the Big Apple, was first used by in the early '20s by stablehands to refer to the New Orleans race track, then the king of race tracks. The name was later borrowed by travelling jazz musicians to refer to Harlem, then the jazz capital of the world. The dance, "The Big Apple," was all the rage in Harlem nightclubs in the '20s and '30s. In 1971, the term "The Big Apple" was revived as part of a publicity campaign to upgrade New York's image and promote tourism." (See Sidewalk)


From the mediaeval French 'Bis + cuit' meaning 'cooked twice'


See Freedom


Literally, "a place to sulk in" from the French "bouder," to pout.


(French) Boulevard; and Bulwark

From the Old Dutch word, "bolwerk," a type of fortification: a "Bulwark." The word changed in French from, "boullewerc" to "bollewerc" to "boulever" and, ultimately, to "boulevard."

Broke (In the sense of having no money)

Many banks in post-Renaissance Europe issued small, porcelain "borrower's tiles" to their creditworthy customers. Like credit cards, these tiles were imprinted with the owner's name, his credit limit, and the name of the bank. Each time the customer wanted to borrow money, he had to present the tile to the bank teller, who would compare the imprinted credit limit with how much the customer had already borrowed. If the borrower were past the limit, the teller "broke" the tile on the spot.


From the Greek "boukolos," meaning "herdsman," from "bous," meaning "ox."


From the Greek "bous" meaning "ox" and "limos," meaning "hunger," presumably because one with Bulimia has the appetite of an ox.

Butcher; Boucher (French); Beccaio (old Italian)

These terms date from the thirteenth century as a term denoting the person who prepared and cut up any kind of meat. Previously it meant a specialist in goat's meat (see bucolic), often salted because it was tough--this fact indicates how low the consumption of beef had been in the Middle Ages. Previously the French word maiselier, masselier or macellier, from the Italian macellaio--a term which never entered into English--was used for the person who slaughtered and cut up creatures of any species as required, and who often kept a kind of tavern. Around the thirteenth century, as the term boucher was starting to be used in the more general sense, the term maiselier came to mean only "innkeeper."

Cab (as in, Taxicab)

Old Italian term for goat (cabra in Spanish). The first carriages "for public hire" bounced so much that they reminded people of goats romping on a hillside


Comes from calculus, the Latin word for pebble. In Ancient Rome, as in Ancient Greece, pebbles were used in the abacus or counting frame in order to carry out basic arithmetic computations (see abacus and exchequer).


From "singing wolf." It seems the melon was first grown in a town in Italy called Cantaluppi. The town was once a summer residence of the popes.

Cantar (Spanish) To Sing

From the Latin "Cantare," meaning, "to sing again and again." The Latin "Canere" mean just "to sing."


Literal meaning: "Flesh, farewell." The "val" ending does not derive from Latin "vale". Modern Italian "carnevale" comes from Old Italian "carnelevare"; levare = raise, put away, remove. Carnival originally refered to the traditional, pre-Lenten feast (like Mardi Gras) after which people usually fasted.


In Early Modern English, used in the sense of "vomiting." This sense of the word was still used as recently as 1803. Originally from the Greek.


From the Latin Candidus word meaning, "bright, shining, glistening white." The ancient Roman candidates for office would wear bright white togas. This same word also gave rise to "candid," which candidates rarely are.

Casarse(Spanish, to marry)

From "casa," meaning "house"; thus similar to the English expression, "to shack up."


Originally meant a monk's living space. It was Robert Hooke, who invented the first microscope. His first specimen was a piece of cork, which was made up of many small rectangular sub-parts. To him, the small rectangles were like the small room monks lived in, known as cells. Thus, he called these microscopic building blocks "cells".

Cerveza (Spanish) Beer

This term, which means "beer" in Spanish, originally came from the medieval French word cervoise. For its part, the French term origianlly stemmed from the Gallo-Roman (that is, ancient French-Latin dialect) word cerevisia, which was used in honor of Ceres, the Roman goddess of the harvest. It is interesting to note that just about the time that the Spanish were adopting the term cerveza (aroung 1482), the French started to drop cervoise in favor of the term biere-- from the Germanic term Bier (from the Latin biber, "to drink"), which was the term that was more popular in northern Europe, where the climate was more favorable to the production of the grains that were used to make the beverage. [(A footnote: the reader might be wondering what term was used in Spain before the adoption of cerveza. Before 1482, the inhabitants of the Iberian Peninsula had used the completely-unrelated ancient Iberian word ceria or celia, meaning "fermented wheat.")(Footnote #2: The English term ale comes from the Scandinavian term for beer, oel. Although oel collectively refers to all types of beer, you beer purists out there know that the English term ale came to refer only to beer produced using the "top" fermentation process. Beer produced using the "bottom" fermentation process is called lager.)].


From the Italian "Capella," Italian for "Cape," because the the original Chapel was where the cape ("capella") of St. Martin of Tour was kept.

Chaos and Chasm

From the Greek "chainein," meaning, "to yawn"; chaos was thus the "original yawning abyss" outside of the ordered universe we know.

Champion; and Campus

See Kampf


From the Spanish "charlar," to chat.


From the Greek "Kara" for "face," via the Latin "Cara," and Old French "Chiere" for the same. So "Be of good cheer," means, "Put on a happy face."


Comes from the Spanish word of the same name, which itself came from the Nahuatl (the language of the Aztecs) word "tchocoatl." The first Spaniard to encounter substance was Hernan Cortes, shortly after his initial reception (and the only friendly one, I might add) at the Court of Moctezuma in the island-city of Tenochtitlan (present-day Mexico City) in 1519. After highly praising the chocolate-based drink and inquiring how it was made, he was told that one started with "cacahuaquchtl" powder (the origin of the word "cocoa"), which was then boiled in water and combined with chilli, musk and honey (and ground maize if you were going off to war and needed additional calories).


Comes from the Greek sikera, which came from the ancient Hebrew shekar, meaning "any intoxicating drink other than wine made by the fermentation of fruit juice."


From the Latin "clamor", which was the judicial or community outcry that resulted from the discovery of a wrongdoing.

Coffee and Croissant

According to legend, coffee beans were first discovered in the town of Kaffa, Ethiopia. As the advancing Arabs had cut off access to Ethiopia (known then as Abyssinia) by the Eighth Century A.D., it first made its way into Arabic as qahwah. By the thirteenth century, the Kaffa beans were brought into southern Mediterranean Europe as cafe. It would take a failed seige of Vienna in the latter half of the Seventeenth Century by the advancing Ottoman Turks to introduce the term and the beverage into German-speaking Europe as Kaffee. Apparently, the Turks had retreated in such haste (according to Austrians--Turks, of course, describe it as a calculated withdrawal) that they left behind, among other things, sacks and sacks of coffee beans; as a result, the Austrians were introduced to coffee and, incidentally, celebrated the event by enjoying a certain puffed pastry created especially for the occasion: the "croissant" or "crescent" (to symbolize victory over the Turks whose flags bore a crescent moon)(The term croissant was used instead of the literal German translation Halbmond or the German culinary term currently in use, Hoernchen, because at the time French was the language en vogue within aristocratic circles due to the prominence of the French King Louis XIV.).
More (unconfirmed): By Imperial Decree the bakers were allowed to bake a new fangeled piece of pastry, which they called "Kipfel" or "Hoernchen", but you did not mention the reason. The Turks got desperate after a long siege & tried to get into the city by tunneling under the walls at night. The bakers who started their work at 2 AM heard suspicious noises & alarmed the forces & the plot was discovered & so the Turks had to give up and leave

Conejo (Spanish) Rabbit

This Spanish term, which means "rabbit," comes from the Latin word cuniculus, which, itself, was copied letter-for-letter from an even earlier Iberian term--according to Pliny the Elder--referring to both the animal and its burrow--and, by extension, any underground passage or canal. For its part, the term rabbit is a word of Flemish origin, and was originally used only young animals. The word that had been used to refer to the older animal--in both Flemish and Old English--was "cony" or "coney," another derivative of cuniculus.


From the Old French "coe" meaning "tail." The OED adds, "The precise reference to tail is uncertain: it may be to an animal `turning tail' in flight, or to the habit in frightened animals of drawing the tail between the hinder legs: cf. the Heraldic use in sense B 2. It is notable that in the Old French version of Reynard the Fox, Coart is the name of the hare: this may be a descriptive appellation in reference to its timidity; but it is also `bunt', so conspicuous as the animal makes off, and that the name was thence transferred to `hearts of hare'." A coward is thus, literally, someone who "turns his tail and runs."

Companion; Compañero (Spanish); Copain (French) Companion

From the Latin "Companionem," which was, "one with whom you would eat bread" -- "Con" (with) and "Pan" (bread) -- presumably, your "companion" was someone with whom you would "break bread." See also Lord and host.

Cravate (French);Krawatte (German); Corbata (Spanish) Tie

The term "Krawatte" (German), "cravate" (French) and "corbata" (Spanish), which all mean a man's "tie", first originated in the Napoleonic Wars when French troops were entering the territory of Crotia, which, at that time, was part of the Holy Roman Empire. Apparently the Croatians were so estatic to be rid of the German Habsburg yoke that they showered the triumphant French troops with flowers and ran up to them and tucked squares of red cloth in the collars of their uniforms as a gesture of goodwill. From them on the term "Croat" or a variation thereof seems to have stuck in may parts of Continental Europe.


From the French "Crétin," which originally meant "Christian."


See Kopf


From raisens of Corinth


From the French "couvrir feu," literally, "Cover Fire."


From "Day's Eye." George Eddington writes, "Not special in itself, but Mata Hari also means "Eye of the day," and the lady took the name because she had lived in the Dutch East Indies and heard the natives so refer to the sun. What would it be like to refer to 'That famous spy of World War I, Daisy?'"


French for "of good air." In the Middle Ages, people's health was judged partly by how they smelled. A person who gave off "good air" was presumed healthier and happier.


From the Old English "deor," meaning "animal."

Demon (German and English)

From the Greek "Daimon" for a non-human power somewhere between people and gods, without any negative connotations. An example would be the daimon of Socrates. The daimon had a wisdom which has nothing to do with our modern conceptions of good or evil: it was a force of nature that could offer hints about fateful situations and actions.


The tough cloth used in jeans was originally made in Nimes, France, as well as Genoa, Italy (see jeans). It was called Serge di Nimes--later shortened to di Nimes, which became denim.


From the Latin "De Rivus," "From a stream."

Deutsch (German for German)

"Deutsch" has its origin in the Old High German word "diutisc" meaning "the language of the people" (as opposed to Latin). There are also uncertain alernatives origins of "German" as Celtic "The Noisy Men" or Old High German "The Greedy Men"!


From the Latin "dexter," for "right" (in the sense of right-left).


It is suggested that this expression derives from a very old children's game called dibstones. This game, played with sheep knuckle-bones or pebbles, dates back at least to the 17th century (well, that's when the name first pops up in the written). The object was to capture one's opponent's stones, and when a stone was captured, the victorious player would call "Dibbs!" with the meaning "I claim [the stone]". It soon came to be used outside the game but with a similar meaning, and there you have it. Interestingly, that usage outside of the game isn't recorded until 1932 in the US. (Lee Quinn)


From "thaler" -- a nickname for the silver coins that were minted from the ore found in Joachimsthal ("Saint Joachim's Valley" in German), Bohemia (part of the current Czech Republic) -- which gained "currency" (pun not intended) shortly after the lode's discovery in 1516. At that time, Bohemia was part of the Holy Roman Empire and that with the assumption to the throne of Charles V of Austria (and I of Spain), the territories of the Holy Roman Empire were united with those of Spain (including the Spanish New World possessions), Burgundy, and the Low Countries until 1556.This fact leads to the second half of the story: the Joachims' "thaler" was one of the major coins in use not only in the Old World but also in the New World as well, at least until the major silver strike at San Luis de Potosi (Bolivia) and the major gold strike at Zacatecas (Mexico). Furthermore, throughout the rest of the Colonial era, the nickname "thaler" (which eventually became "dolar" in Spanish and "dollar" in English) would remain in use as the nickname for any silver coin that represented exactly one piece of eight (By the way that is where the symbol for the dollar "$" came from--it is the number "8" broken up with a slash down the middle). The term also later made its way into the United States in 1803 when President Thomas Jefferson sought to create a national currency to supplant the various state, local and private currencies then in use. At the time the United States had trade deficits with almost every nation with whom it traded, except for one: Mexico. Due to a sizeable trade surplus with Mexico, the United States government found itself with a sizeable quantity of Spanish Colonial silver "thalers" which it then proceded to use as the basis for the new currency: the U.S. dollar. The dollar sign came from the back of the Spanish Colonial dollar you mention on your page: the pillars on the back (representing the Pillars of Hercules, the land beyond to which the Spanish owed their wealth) with a banner that wove around them in an "S" shape.

R. Dickerson adds/corrects: Your site has two different explanations for the origin of the dollar sign: the first one wrong, the second one correct but incomplete. The proposal that the dollar sign comes from drawing a line down the figure "8" to divide it into "pieces of eight" is totally off base. Instead, Medieval Spaniards were quite proud of the idea that they sat at the very far end of the civilized world, which to them meant the Mediterranean. The narrow straits leading from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic ocean were flanked by mountains, and these were known as the "Pillars of Hercules" after a story from Greek mythology. The Spanish royal coat of arms of the time had a shield, flanked by two pillars. These pillars had decorative ribbons around them, wound in opposite directions, with the legend "Ne Plus" at left and "Ultra" at right. "Ne plus ultra" meant "Nothing beyond". But then Columbus came along and expanded everybody's world. Spain became even prouder of the fact that they now were the portals to a new world. So the "Ne" was dropped from the ribbon at the left of the coat of arms, and the inscription read "Plus ultra", or "More beyond". The ribbons were wound around their pillars just like the "S" in the dollar sign is wound around its uprights. This full royal coat of arms flanked by pillars, whether inscribed "Ne plus ultra" or the later "Plus ultra", was the obverse of the dollar-sized 8 Reales coin, with the king's head on the reverse. I was formerly a serious coin collector, and still have a couple of examples of these 8 Reals, which served as the model in size for our dollar coin. The 8 Real coins circulated widely in Florida and the Caribbean prior to the Revolusion, and would have been familiar to American colonials. It is my feeling that the new nation elected to pattern its monetary unit after the Spanish 8 Reales rather than the British Pound, as a sign of independence from the mother country. The One-Real piece was a small silver coin, also called a "bit". That is why our quarter-dollar has come to be known as "two bits".


From the Latin elire, meaning "to choose," from which we also get the modern Spanish word meaning the same, elegir.


In Latin, escape means "out of cape." The ancient Romans would often avoid capture by throwing off their capes when fleeing.


The English noun essay comes from the French verb "essayer," to try. Early intellectuals believed their papers to be only a modest attempt to put their I deas on paper.


The Moors introduced the Abacus to Europe so that the Europeans could multiply, and the monks spread this device throughout Europe. In Britain, it was used but with their own twist to it: they used a checkboard and checker-like pieces (rather than the usual rods and beads) -- and this gave British version gave rise to the "exchequer" in "Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Faro (Spanish) Lighthouse

An ancient island off Egypt, the Isle of Pharoah, had a great lighthouse on it.

Fegato (Italian) Liver

The Latin word for liver is iecur. According to the usual tendencies in the transformation from Latin to Italian, palatalisation should occur as in Ioannes to Giovanni, iostra to giostra etc. In the case of fegato a very interesting but not unusual phenonema occurred, discovered during research in Pompeii. (Pompeii is very important for historical linguists since it gives the precise date of AD 70 for the various writings found on walls, thus providing clues to the tendencies in transformation from Latin to Italian). On the wall of a corner buffet in downtown Pompeii there are remains of a menu including a favourite dish iecur ficatus (liver with figs). This dish was so popular that customers simply asked for a portion of ficatus, which gradually came to stand for liver itself.

Feo (Spanish) Ugly

From the Latin "Foedus," for "disgusting."


From the French meaning the same, Forest originally comes from the Latin foris, which means "outside," and captured the idea of a place forbidden or protected by a barrier. The concept would later signify the legal barriers around the territories reserved for royal hunts (and the felling of trees). Incidentally, the English word foreign is of the same derivation, denoting the stranger outside the royal territory, on the other side of the frontiers.


From the Old English "fugol," meaning "bird."


This comes from German (literal, modern-day translation, "Freiheit"), but is actually closer in derivation to the German word "Friede", which means "peace" and is a word of pre-Christian, Germanic origin (originally "Frith"). The archaic term was used to signify the period following the termination of a bloodfeud between two Germanic clans when the softer, feminine qualities of the god "Freda" or "Frita" held sway. To achieve such a peace, some consideration had to given up on the part of the clan whose member had committed the most recent wrong against another clan, such as a certain quantity of meat or animal hides. What was given up was called "Bot" (delivered good) or "Botschaft" (literally delivered shank (of meat), but currently is the modern German word for "message"). It is interesting to note that this is from where we get the English term "boat" (Apparently, as time went on, the term was used less to describe what was being delivered and more to describe the deliverer or means of delivery--Hence, the modern German words "Bote" (messenger) and "Boot" (boat--which can be visualized as a means of delivering something or someone)).

Fromage (French); Formage (Medieval French); Formaggio (Italian) cheese

From the Latin word for the basket or wooden box in which compressed curds were molded to make cheese, forma, which itself came from the earlier Greek term phormos (This is also where the English word "form" comes from). For their part, the English word cheese, the Spanish word queso and the German word Kaese all come from the Latin word caseus, the foodstuff itself.

Gehen (German) To go

Originally meant, "being empty"


Originally meant "placed on the knees." In Ancient Rome, a father legally claimed his newborn child by sitting in front of his family and placing his child on his knee.

Gewissen (German) Conscience

From "wissen" (to know), from which we also get the word, "wissenschaft"--science.


From the Old English "asgift," meaning, "payment for a wife" in the singular and meaning "wedding" in the plural. The Middle Dutch "gift," now written as "gif," meant the same, but today means "poison." The Old High German "gift" also became "poison." From the root "geb-", from which in English we get "give." There is another German word, however, which incorporates the word "gift", but which retains the older meaning of "payment for a wife". The word is "Mitgift", which is the modern German word for "dowry".

Gin; Ginebra (Spanish); Genievre (French)

The English word "gin" comes from the French word genievre, which means "juniper," the name of the berry which gives gin its distinctive, bitter flavor. Incidentally, the term "juniper" comes from the Celtic word jenupus, meaning "bitter." One final note: the name of the western Swiss city of Geneva also stems from the same source. Apparently, the countryside around Geneva had originally been filled with wild juniper plants.


New Latin from Greek Gorillai, for a tribe of hairy women, perhaps of African origin.


Comes from the description of the feeling that many British sailors experienced when they would drink too much "grog," a mixture of rum and water. Grog is said to have taken its name from the nickname of "Old Grog" given to British Admiral Vernon by his sailors; much like Lord Mountbatten later, he was in the habit of wearing a kind of heavy coat of grogram, a coarse weatherproof fabric (the word comes from the French gros-grain). The sailors started to apply their nickname for him in a rather derisive way to their rations of rum, after he mandated in 1740 that they be diluted with water.

Guapo (Spanish) Handsome

Guapo, and Chulo ("cool"), both originally had the connotation of "scoundrel", coming to mean "good-looking" probably by way of "valiant." The derogatory "Wop" also comes from "guapo", by way of Italian dialect "guappo".


Greek for a place where you train naked.

Hablar (Spanish) To Speak

From the Latin "Fabulare," meaning, "to tell fables."


This term came from the Arabic "al zahr," which means "the dice" and was used by Western Europeans to call each of the various games played with dice that they learned while in the Holy Land during the Crusades. The term eventually took on the connotation of danger because, from very early on, dice games were associated with gambling and with con artists using corrupted dice.


Greek for "Choice."


Originally was a medieval classification of angels into various ranks.


From the Old English "hum," which which we also get the suffix -ham, as in Nottingham.

Host, Hospital, Hostel, Hospice, Hospitable, Hospitality

From the Latin "hospes, hospitis," meaning, "someone who receives stangers into his home." In English, "Host" also means "the consecreated bread consumed in Communion"; thus the connection between friendship and bread is once again noteworthy; see Companion and Lord.


We borrowed it from latin, meaning liquid. The ancient philosophers believed that four liquids entered into the makeup of our bodies, and that our temperment (temperamentum,"mixture") was determined by the proportions of these four fluids,or humors, which they listed as blood, phlegm, bile, and black bile. If you had a overplus of blood, the first humor, you were of the optimistic and sanguine temperament (latin sanguis, blood). A generous portion of phlegm, on the other hand made you "phlegmatic", or slow and unexciteable. Too much yellow bile and you saw the world through a "bilious" eye , and since the word "bile" is chole in Latin, you were apt to be choleric and short tempered. The fourth humor, the non-existent black bile, was a little special invention of the ancient physiologists. A too heavy proportion of this made you "melancholy," for in latin melancholia meant " the state of having too much black bile." Any imbalance of these humors, therefore made a person unwell and perhaps eccentric, and, as the years went by, the word humor took on the meaning of "oddness," and a humorous man was one that we now call a crank. And finally the word was applied to those who could provoke laughter at the oddities and the incongruities of life. (Wilfred Funk, Word Origins and their romantic stories)


Comes from the Old German words hus and bunda, which mean "house" and "owner," respectively. The word originally had nothing to do with marital status, except for the fact that home ownership made husbands extremely desirable marriage partners.

Idea, Ideal, Idol

All from the Greek "idein," for "to see"; cognates with the Sanskrit "vid" (to know) and Latin "videre" (to see) and the English "wise." The W/V sound from the Indo-European root was lost in ancient Greek.


From the Latin "incanere," meaning, "to sing to." The idea is "If you play the music, someone has to = dance."


Genoa--called "Gene" by sixteenth-century Europeans--was the first city to make denim cloth (see Denim) used for jeans. The pants were named after the city.

Kampf (German) Struggle

From the Latin "campus" -- for their type of fortification, where the Roman soldiers had their military drills -- from which we also drive the English words, "camp," "campus" and "champion." Thus, when we talk about a "college campus," there are subtle militaristic overtones.


The Chinese invented ke-tsiap--a concoction of pickled fish and spices (but no tomatoes)--in the 1690s. By the early 1700s its popularity had spread to Malaysia, where British explorers first encountered it. By 1740 the sauce--renamed ketchup--was an English staple, and it was becoming popular in the American colonies. Tomato ketchup wasn't invented until the 1790s, when New England colonists first mixed tomatoes into the sauce. It took so long to add tomatoes to the sauce because, for most of the 18th. Century, people had assumed that they were poisonous, as the tomato is a close relative of the toxic belladonna and nightshade plants.

Kike -- a vulgar, offensive word for a Jew

Originally coined by German Jews to use against Russian Jews. Comes from the "k" sound at the end of many Russian Jewish names, such as "Lewinsky" or "Lemcoff."


Descended from the Old English word "cnafa" which just meant, "youth."


From the Old English "cniht," which meant "boy, servant."

Kopf (German) Head

From Latin "cuppa," meaning "cup"; the Romans used the cup as a metaphor for the upper part of the head. Similarly, another Latin word for "cup," "testa," has now become the French "Tête," for "head," too. Note that both the Germans and the Celts used a "skullcap" "top of the human head") as a drinking vessel; this was part of the honoring of the enemy ritual. Thus related to "chief" and "capital" (and "testicle" as well).

Languedoc (region in Southern France)

This means, literally, the langue d'oc, the "language of oc." Apparently, in the first few centuries after the fall of the Roman Empire in the West, a basic linguistic separation started to emerge between the local Latin dialect of northern Gaul (France) and that of the South. In order to capture that divergence in a single phrase, the inhabitants of those two regions started to refer to each other and to the two regions as langue d'oc--"[those of the] language [that uses] "oc" [as the word that means "yes"]"--and langue d'oil--"[those of the] language [that uses] "oil" [as the word that means "yes"--incidentally, this is where the modern French word "oui" comes from]. As the centuries rolled on, two notable changes occurred: first, northern France eventually gained predominance over the South and, therefore, its dialect started to become the lingua franca (no pun intended) or means of official communication between the two regions and, eventually, the national language and, second, the term langue d'oil disappeared from common usage as the nickname of northern France.

Lemon (Eng.); Limón (Sp.); Citron (Fr.); Zitrone (Germ.); Cytryna (Pol.); Citrom (Hung.)

The English and the Spanish term both stem from the Arabic li mum, which itself came from the Chinese term limung. Originally from the foothills of Kashmir, the lemon did not reach China until around 1900 B.C. Shortly thereafter, it made its way to Persia and the Middle East, and was eventually brought by the Arabs to Greece via Constantinople and to the Iberian Peninsula via the North African Maghrib and Fezzan (modern-day Algeria and Morocco, respectively) around the Tenth Century A.D. A derivative of the Arabic term was eventually adopted by both the English and the Spanish, whereas the French, the Germans, the Poles and the Hungarians all used a form of the Old Latin term citron, which referred to a, then extinct, bitter cousin of the orange that was popular in the Roman Empire [Footnote: The "lime" was introduced to Europe by the Spanish in the Sixteenth Century, who discovered it in Peru and phonetically spelled it from its Quechuan word (Quechuan--the language of the Incas) as "lima"--Incidentally, the capital city of modern-day Peru, Lima, was founded by the Spaniards, who named it after the fruit. The Incan name for that part of the coastal strip is often translated as "malarial swamp."].

Lettuce; and Leche (Spanish) Milk

Lettuce in Latin was "lactuca sativa," which means "milky sap"; thus it is related to the Spanish "leche" for milk and "lactic" and other such derivations.


The Latin words "Liber," "Libera," and "Liberum" -- with a Long I -- came from the root meaning, "to pour." From this, we get the word "Liberty" (hence pronounced with a short I), from the freedom we feel when we get drunk. See Library (unrelated).


From the Latin word, Liber -- with a long I -- meaning, "to peel," which would refer to the inner bark of a tree. Early manuscripts were writen on these bark, and from this bark we get the modern word "Library." See Liberty (unrelated).

Liebe (German) Love

From the Latin for "Libido," which comes from the Latin "Libere" (free, as in "Liberty").

Light; and Licht (German) Light

Related to the Latin "Luna," meaning, "moon." "Moonlight" is therefore something like a tautology.

Lindo (Spanish) Beautiful

Related to "limpid" and "legitimate."


From the Latin "locusta," meaning, "locust." The OED adds, "The Latin word orig. denotes a lobster or some similar crustacean, the application to the locust being suggested by the resemblance in shape."


From the Anglo-Saxon "hlaford," which was composed of "hlaf" and "weard," and meant, "loaf-ward"; similarly, "Lady" is from the Anglo-Saxon "hlaefdige," or "loaf-maid." See also companion and host.


Lucifer is Latin for "Light Bringer". The Hebrew for the same, Haleal, means "adversary." The passage in Isaiah (the only place in the Old Testament that mentions Lucifer) uses the Hebrew term for the Morning Star (ie, the planet Venus). The passage refers to the King of Babylon sarcastically, saying that he considered himself to be like God, just as the Morning Star is a bright light in the sky, but pales in comparison to the sun.


A tautology; "luke" means warm or lukewarm [from ME lew, lewe, luke, lewk and OE hleow and ON hlyr = lukewarm]

Madera (Spanish) Wood

From the Latin materia, from the PIE *mater-, meaning "mother"


From the medieval Italian "mal'" (bad) and "aria" (air), describing the miasma from the swamps around Rome in the summer months, believed to be the cause of fevers.


The -aise suffix is French for "native to" or "originating in." Mahonnaise was supposedly created to celebrate a 1756 French battle victory over the British on the Spanish isle of Port Mahon.

Marcher (French) To Walk

The OED says, "The etymology of Fr. marcher is obscure; the prevailing view is that the oldest recorded sense `to trample' was developed from a sense `to hammer', and that the word represents a Gaulish Latin *marcare, f. L. marcus hammer."

Mark (German) The German unit of currency (pre-Euro)

Originally meant "Borderland," from the ancient German towns on the frontier -- hence the English word "Mark," as in, "to mark a boundary." Hence, the German place names, Finmark, Dänemark, Ostmark, etc. From the German Mark, we also get the French "marche" and Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, and Catalan, "marca."


From the French "Maîtresse," which originally meant "bride."


From the Latin word "moneta" which originally meaning, "warning."

Mound; and Monde (French), Mundo (Spanish) World

From the pre-Christian, Germanic term "mund" or protection, such as that offered by a clan or tribal leader to the members of the group. This was also the name of the small hills of dirt or "protection" that was used to bury deceased members of the tribe. It is interesting to note that this term was brought with the Germanic tribes (ie., Goths, Visigoths, Vandals, Alemani, Suevi) who invaded the Western half of the Roman Empire towards the end of the Fifth century A.D. and is from where we get the term "le monde" (French) and "el mundo" (Spanish) which mean "the world" (literally, the "earthen mound").


From the Latin mus (mouse) plus cul (dim.) - the little mouse that runs beneath the skin when you flex.

Museum, Mosaic

Both from the Greek Muse (museum is Latin for "Place inhabited by the Muses"; mosaic is from the Greek mouseios, "related to the Muses")

Mustard (Eng.) / Moutarde (Fr.)/ Mostrich (N. Germ. dialect)/ Mostarda (It.)/ Mostaza (Sp.)

As a condiment, mustard has been enjoyed for thousands of years. It is made from the crushed seeds of a member of the Cruciferae plant family known as Sinapis. Originally, the crushed seeds were mixed with vinegar--much as we enjoy it today--but the vinegar was eventually replaced for a time in the Middle Ages with grape "must" (a byproduct of the winemaking process). Hence, the name "must"ard. The botanical name Sinapis gave rise to the French name for the actual plant, seneve, as well as the German word for mustard, Senf.

Nacht (German) Night

Originally meant, "Day," since the ancient Germans, like the ancient Jews, measured each day from sundown to sundown. See also Tag.

Nauseau, Navigate

Both from the Proto-Indo-European *nau, meaning "boat"


From the Greek of the same, originally meant, "the act of distributing or apportioning" and later became, "(divine) wrath and retribution, righteous indignation at the breach of rules."

Nemesis was a deity who restores a balance. Were a bunch of shipmakers to launch a vessel without saluting the gods, for instance, this act of hubris might call forth a counter-reaction, as we saw with the Titanic. There was no judgmentalism or divine punishment involved, simply a response from the other world to lapses occurring in this one.


From the Latin "nescius," for "ignorant," and, at various times before the current definition became established meant "foolish" then "foolishly precise" then "pedantically precise" then "precise in a good way" and then our current definition.


Derived from the Latin word for ninth. The word "noon" originally meant the ninth hour after sunrise, or 3:00 p.m.--generally the hottest part of the day and the time when most people in the Roman Empire would break for lunch.


From the Old English "nosthryl," which comes from the OE words "nosu" (meaning "nose") and "thryl" (meaning "hole").


From the Latin Occasion, meaning, "accident, or a grave event."


From the Latin octu(m), meaning "eight," and imber, meaning "rain." Same "imber" in September.


Originally meant, "Church serivce." (Note the secularization of the term.)

Ojalá (Spanish) "I hope [that...]"

This term, which in Spanish means "I wish that" or "May God grant" stems from the older Arabic phrase "In Sh Allah," which means "May Allah grant." It is one of the biggest ironies that a people, who for hundreds of years were staunch, frontline Catholics battling to reconquer the Iberian Peninsula from the Islamic Moors, still to this day beseach Allah each time that they express an emphatic desire.

Old; and Alt (German) Old

"Alt" originally meant, "Grown up"; the participle of "growing"; related to "Alan," which meant, "to grow" but no longer exists in modern German. In Old English, the word "Alan" was also used in this same sense of growing or nourishing. Related to the Latin "alt" meaning "high."


Coming to English via the French word meaning the same, this word is thought to derive ultimately from the Latin word lamella, a "thin plate," referring to the long, flat shape of the omlette, and to represent a gradual corruption of allumelle first to allumelette, then to alomelette (Le cuisiner francois of 1651 has aumelette). The modern term "omelette" appears for the first time in Cuisine bourgeoise of 1784.


From the Latin Ob-, meaning "towards," and portu(m), meaning "port."

Orange (Eng.); Orange (Fr.); Naranja (Sp.); Arancia (It.)

Interestingly, none of these terms come from the Latin word for orange, citrus aurentium; instead, they all come from the ancient Sanskrit naga ranga, which literally means "fatal indigestion for elephants." In certain traditions the orange, not the apple, is the fruit responsible for original sin. There was an ancient Malay fable--which made its way into the Sanskrit tongue around the Seventh or Eighth Centuries B.C.--that links the orange to the sin of gluttony and has an elephant as the culprit. Apparently, one day an elephant was passing through the forest, when he found a tree unknown to him in a clearing, bowed downward by its weight of beautiful, tempting oranges; as a result, the elephant ate so many that he burst. Many years later a man stumbled upon the scene and noticed the fossilized remains of the elephant with many orange trees growing from what had been its stomach. The man then exclaimed, "Amazing! What a naga ranga (fatal indigestion for elephants)!"


"Ostron" is a Greek word for pottery. Periodically the Greeks would hold an election to determine if someone was a danger to their community. Everyone would write their votes on broken pieces of pottery ("ostron") and if the vote was successful, the person was banished or "ostracized."


From the Latin paganu(m), for "someone who is not from the city, rather from the country." In late Latin, this turned into pagensis, "one who is from the country," and this utimately became the French pays and the Spanish País, both meaning "nation."


From the Spanish, "palabra," meaning, "word."

Parlement (French) Parliament

From the French, "Parler," meaning, "to speak." Thus, we can not complain when our politicians do little other than "speak."

Parler (French) To Speak

From the Latin "Parabolare," meaning, "to tell parables."


Pavillion comes from the Latin "papilion-em," meaning, "butterfly." Pavillion meant a tent and the allusion is to butterfly wings.


Pay goes back ultimately to Latin, "pax" peace, by way of , appease, pacify. So "pay" originally meant "pay off," to keep the peace.


From the French "Ped de gru," which means or meant, "Crane's foot," the /|\ symbol "used to denote succession in a genealogical table."


When the peach first made its way to the Roman Empire from Persia, it was called malum persicum, "Persian apple." The persicum then became pessicum, pessica and pesca (In modern Russian, it is still piersika.). The Italians have retained the term pesca, and it has become "peach" in English, peche in French, and Pfirsich in German. The Spanish differ from the rest of Europe in calling it melocoton, literally "cotton-skinned apple"--from melum, "apple," and cotonium, meaning "quince" in Latin.


From the latin "pecunia," which originally meant, "wealth from livestock."


From from the Latin leg, because the bi-valve that produces pearls looks like a leg-of-mutton.

Pineapple (Eng.); Piña (Sp.); Nana (Fr.); Ananas (Germ.)

When Columbus landed in Guadeloupe in 1493, he found pineapples, which probably had originally come from Brazil. As Father de Acosta observed as early as 1589, the Spanish thought this new fruit resembled a pine cone; hence, the Spanish name of pinya, and the English name of "pineapple" (the fruit was often just called a "pine" when it was first introduced into Britain). The word nanais a portion of the Brazilian Guarani word that means "perfumed" and was retained in both French and German.


Originally meant a follower (originally of Aristotle).


From the Greek "Planasthai" for "to wander."

Porcelain (French) Porcelaine

French porcelaine, from Old French pourcelaine, from Italian porcellana "of a sow," hence cowry shell, hence porcelain (from the resemblance of the cowry shell to the vulva of a sow), from porcella, diminutive of porca, sow, from Latin, feminine of porcus, swine.

Potato (Eng.); Patata (Castilian Sp.); Papa (S. American Sp.); Cartoufle (16th.-cent. Fr.); Kartoffel (Germ.); Kartopfel (Russian; Pomme de terre (modern Fr.--"Earth apple"); Erdaepfel (Aust. Germ.--"Earth apple")

The South American Spanish term comes directly from the Incan word papa or bappa, which means "sweet potato." Apparently, the soldiers of the various Spanish expeditionary forces to the Americas confused the potato with the sweet potato, as they began to use first the term bappa, then bappata (with the Spanish augmentative suffix -ata), to refer to the entire potato family (more than 100 different types if you ask any Peruvian). It didn't take very long for bappata to become patata, which subsequently made its way into English as "potato." For their part, the French, German and Russian words stem from an error made by the Pope's botanist in 1588. In that year, Pedro Cieca, an adjutant of Pizarro (the Spanish conqueror Peru), sent some potato tubers to the Spanish monarchs in 1588. They then gave them to the Pope, who had them examined by his botanist Clusius. Clusius planted the stems in a plot near the Vatican (the first potatoes planted in European soil). Not knowing what Latin name to give his potatoes after they grew, he incorrectly categorized them as taratuflis, "little truffles." The Italian Pope, who had poor eyesight, then proceeded to read the word as tartufoli, which is the source from which the word for potato in many European languages originated.


From "promenade"

Propina (Spanish; Tip)

From the Greek Propinein, which means "to drink to the health of someone else." This evolved into Propina from the ancient custom of buying a drink, toasting to someone's health, drinking half of the cup -- and then giving the other half to him (the person to whose health you are drinking) to drink. Curiously, the German word for Tip, Trinkgeld literally means, "money to drink" and the French word for Tip, pourboire, literally means, "to drink," and the Portuguese word for Tip, Gorjeta, comes from the Old Portuguese word gorja, which was a drink to improve the throat or money to buy a drink. The Danish word for Tip also means "money for drinking" and the Russian word for it means "money for tea."


From the Greek "Pseudos," meaning, "false."


From the Gothic German "qino" then the Old English word "cwene" which was their common word for "woman." This gave rise to the early Middle English word "quean" which meant "woman," but was used as a "term of disparagement or abuse... a hussy, harlot" and used sometimes today to mean a male homosexual. Related to the modern Swedish word "kvinna," for woman.


From the medieval Latin, "Quinta Essentia," or "the Fifth Essence" -- what we would now call, "The Fifth Element." That which is quintessential is of the fifth element that would come after the four classical elements (earth, wind, rain, fire). The OED summarizes this original sense best, "The `fifth essence' of ancient and medieval philosophy, supposed to be the substance of which the heavenly bodies were composed, and to be actually latent in all things, the extraction of it by distillation or other methods being one of the great objects of alchemy."
"Quintessential" began life as an alchemical term, the Quinta Essentia, the fifth that arises from the four elements you mention in your etymology. The Fifth was thought to be the fabled Philosopher's Stone which the alchemists sought, a Stone that could cure illness, extend life, and turn base metals into gold and silver. How to combine the four elements to make the Fifth was the great problem of alchemy (from the Arabic "al-kimiya").


From the French "regretter," which originally meant, "lament over the dead."

Reise (German) Travel

Related to, "rise."


In Old French, "riche" meant "powerful"; it came to mean wealthy only by semantic extension. Originally from the German, Reich.


From the pre-Christian, Germanic term "riht", which was the sense of justice or balance that tribal elders attempted to achieve when determining the size of the "Bot." This is not to be confused with peace or "Friede," which could be achieved with differing amounts of "Bot" and was merely the cessation of fighting. "Riht" was that perfect amount of "Bot" that restored order within the universe and ensured the most long-lasting peace. (See the etymology of "Bot" at the end of the entry of freedom.)


Robot comes from the Czech word "robot," which means "worker." In 1923, Karl Capek, a well-known, Czech, science-fiction writer at the time, wrote a futuristic thriller about a nightmarish scenario in which the machines have taken over (a la, the "Terminator") and implanted circuitry in humans to make them into mindless zombies willing to serve them as workers or "robots."


The word rodent comes from the Latin word `rodere' meaning to gnaw (and "roedor" (rodent in spanish) is an animal who "roe" (gnaws) )


The sense of "love" comes from the middle ages, when Latin was the language of the intellectuals but the languages of the people -- i.e., the Romance languages -- was the vulgar language love stories were written in.


"Sugar wine" was not called rum until after 1688, and the word seems to have been an abbreviation of "rumbullion" or "rumbustion." The word may have been a term from the new pidgin English of Barbados and possibly derived from the distortion of a term in the Spanish dialect of Seville, combining Low Latin rheu, "stem," and bullion or bouillon, "boiling" (Similarly, "rhubarb" is a plant with edible stems originating from somewhere foreign--in other words, it is a "barbarous stem.").


The English word "saffron" comes from the Spanish word azafran, as it is in Spain where most of the world's highest quality crocus flowers (the plant whose stamens are the source of all saffron) are found. Azafran comes from the Arabic za'faran, meaning "yellow."


Originally meant, "imposition of penance." (Note the secularization of the term.)

Salad; Salade (French); Ensalada (Spanish)

This term first appeared in the Fifteenth Century as the Italian "zelada," a term meaning "salty," which was first applied to a dish that often appeared on festive tables in Milan. It was actually a kind of ragout, very liquid and very salty (hence, its name), and it was flavored with preserves, mustard and lemon and decorated with marzipan (Heinous!--editorial comment)(It was also served in cups, rather than directly on the main plate, a novelty at the time). The sauce for this soup-like dish, originally a hot one, came to include various kinds of green stuff which had been pickled in vinegar or salt, and then fresh cooked greens, or raw greens in the Roman manner. Finally, in the next century, the raw vegetables began to be sprinkled with oil and vinegar--also in the Roman manner--rather than being served with a variety of hot, broth-like sauces.

Salary; Salt

In the early days of Rome its soldiers were given a handful of salt each day. The salt ration was subsequently replaced by a sum of money allowing each man to buy his own, and relieving the commisariat of the trouble of transporting it. The money received was referred to as their "salt money" (salarium in Latin). Eventually, the term would make its way into medieval France, where a soldier's payment was known as his solde (which is still in use today as the term for a soldier's or sailor's pay), and it was in paid for with a special coin called a sol. By extension, the word also came to refer not only to a soldier's wage, but also to the soldier himself, evidenced by the medieval French term soldat, which itself came from the Old French soudier. For its part, the English word "soldier" comes from the Middle English souder, which also derived from soudier [Footnote: Contrary to popular belief, salt--necessary as it was and unlike other spices--was never very expensive. It only became expensive towards the end of the twelfth century A.D., when it was used as a means of taxation and people often went without it, as a result--a fact not unconnected with the famines and deficiencies that afflicted so many generations of Europeans at the time).].

Schlaf (German) Sleep

Originally meant, "the process of becoming tired"


The result of a mistranslation of the Old Testament by William Tyndale in 1530. He mistakenly confused the Hebrew word "azazal," the name of a Caanonite demon, with "ez-ozel," meaning, "the goat the departs." Leviticus 16:8 discusses how goats should be sacrificed to God as a sin-offering, and another should be given to Azazel and set free in the wilderness, for the sins of the people.


From the Anglo-Saxon "hcream", which was the tribal outcry, in this case, that resulted from the discovery of a wrongdoing.


From the Latin "Scrupulus," meaning "pebble."

Search; Circus

From "Circus," which is from the Greek "Krikos" or "Kirkos," which was a hawk or falcon which flies in circles, and later just a circle or ring.


From the Latin "senex," meaning "old"; thus related to "senile."


The OED says: Fr. seconde, ad. med.L. secunda, fem. of L. secundus second a., used ellipt. for secunda minuta, lit. `second minute', i.e. the result of the second operation of sexagesimal division; the result of the first such operation (now called `minute' simply) being the `first' or `prime minute' or `prime'.


From 1550 to 1675 was "very extensively" used in the sense of deserving of pity and compassion, helpless. It is a derivative of the Middle English "seely," from the German "selig," meaning happy, blissful, blessed, as well as punctual, observant of season.


From the Latin "sinister" for "left." Hence, left is evil.

Sherry; and Jerez (Spanish)

The word "sherry" is named after "Jerez" in Spain, but the way the name was pronounced in 1600. "X" was used in Spanish and is still used in Catalan, to represent an "sh" sound. When the "sh" sound changed to an aspirate "h" sound the Spanish Academy changed the spellings to "j"--but today the "j" is pronounced more gutterally (the "archaic 'j'" (x) vs. the 'modern 'j'" (j)). So we continue to spell it "Mexico" while the Spaniards (but not the Mexicans) spell it "Mejico." This shift had occurred by the time Cervantes wrote Don Quixote de La Mancha. It is interesting to note that at one time almost every Spanish word that you can think of which contains the letter "j" used "x" in place of "j" (ie., "Xerez", "Xuan", "Ximena", "Mexico", "Quixote", "trouxemos" and "baixo" became "Jerez", "Juan", "Jimena", "Mejico", "trajimos" (we are bringing) and "bajo" (low; short; beneath), with "Quixote" remaining unchanged as it is a proper noun.).


After large parts of Slavonia (the current Yugoslavian Federation province of Serbia, as well as portions of surrounding countries) were subjugated by the Holy Roman Empire in the Middle Ages, a Slav became synonymous with someone who lived in servitude. Eventually Slav became slave.


The Eastern European region of Silesia was known for its fine cloth. Eventually, so many low-quality imitations wound up on the market that Silesian turned into sleazy.


from 2 Celtic words: "slaugh" and "gheun" which mean, respectively, "battle" and "cry".

Soleil (French) and Solell (Catalan) Sun

From the Latin "Soliculus", meaning, "a little sun"; "sol" meant just "sun."

Soup; Soupe (French); Sopa (Spanish); Zuppa (Italian)

From the Old Low Latin term suppa, meaning "soaked [in water or some other liquid]." The original sense of this word survives in only Dutch (soppen, "to soak") and English (sop, as in "sopping wet"). The Old Low Latin for "soaked" originally came into use to describe a popular dish, which consisted of a piece of bread soaked in water or some other liquid and then flavored with whatever was handy.


From the Old English "steorfan," meaning "die." Related to the German for "die," "sterben."


From the Old English "spillan," meaning, "destroy."


From the Old English "stol," meaning "throne."

Strawberry (Eng.); Fraise (Fr.); Fresa (Sp.)/ Fragola (It.); Erdbeer (Germ.--"earth berry"); Eper (Hung.)

The fruit's name differs in the various European languages, although those names deriving from Latin still suggest the exquisite fragrance that caused the small, scented berry to be termed fragaria vesca, "fragrant berry," in Latin. The English "strawberry" refers to the layer of straw placed around the plants to keep the fruit off the soil, a particularly good idea in damp climates, such as that typically found in Great Britain and Ireland.


Gants de Suede is French for "gloves of Sweden." It was in Sweden that the first leather was buffed to a fine softness, and the French bought the gants de Suede. Suede now refers to the buffing process--not to any particular kind of leather.

Sugar; Candy; Caramel

All come from the Greek saccharon and the Roman saccharum, which are both distortions of the Sanskrit sarkara. Around the year 1000, after conquering a good portion of the southern Mediterranean, the Arabs installed the first "industrial" sugar refinery on the island of Crete, which they renamed Qandi, which in Arabic means "crystallized sugar." This is how the word "candy" made its way into English. Shortly thereafter, the Arabs also invented "caramel," which comes from the Arabic phrase kurat al milh and means "ball of sweet salt."


From the same Indo-European root as the Latin "suavis."


From the Greek "sykon," meaning "fig"; a sycophant was thus originally someone who makes figs appear. There are a few suggested etymologies: fig smuggling was illegal in ancient Greece, so a sycophant could have been a telltale for a reward; or, it could be from the shaking of a fig-tree, which moved the figs from the hidden heights to the ground where all could see it; or, it could be from "the sign of the fig," which is the gesture of making a fist with the thumb in-between the index and middle fingers, which represented female genitalia;--this gesture was used to indicate an accusation of wrong-doing.

Tag (German) Day

Originally meant, "The time during which the sun burns." See also, Nacht.

Tarjeta (Spanish) Card

From the French "targette," for, "a little shield."


"Tennis," a sport which first developed in France, was originally "tenez" (pronounced tuh-nay) which is the French verb "tenir" conjugated at the second person of the plural as a polite imperative verb (translated in this case by something like "there you go"). They were saying "tenez" when they hit the ball so as to say :"there, try to get this one". But tennis lost popularity in France and gained popularity in England at the same time. So, English people were still using the word "tenez" each time they hit the ball, but saying it with the English accent which sounded more like tennis, and which eventually took this new spelling. Then the sport gained popularity world wide and got picked up by many languages, including French.

Tête (French) Head

See Kopf


"Therma" (hot) is from the Greek city of Therma, known for its hot springs.

Third Degree

A "Third Degree," also known as a "Master Mason," is the highest rank within the Free Mason (and has been since 1772). To become a Third Degree, you must undergo a series of questions.
A reader adds: Your definition of "Third Degree" is close, but not exact. There are actually 33 degrees within Freemasonry, of which the first 3 are used for initiating a new member.
Once the initiate has completed all 3 ceremonies of initiation they are termed a "Master Mason", yet they may undertake more study and progress further still with respect to rank and level of degree. However, no further study is required of a Master Mason, and they may remain a third degree Master Mason for as long as they please.
The first degree is termed the "Apprentice" initiation.
The second degree is termed the "Entered Apprentice" initiation.
And the third degree is correctly termed, as you have mentioned, the "Master Mason".
The reason it is such a well coined phrase lies in the fact that the initiate, whilst enduring the "Third Degree" initiation, undergoes a series of stressful and unpleasant happenings, much more so than the first 2 degrees.
I.E. The phrase : "That poor bugger is getting the third degree."


From the Greek of the same, meaning, "to put, place, set." From the same Indo-European root as do, deed, doom, the -dom of kingdom and serfdom (etc.); fact, facility, the -fy of nullify and rectify (etc.).


"Threshold" originated in the middle ages when houses with stone floors were covered with threshings to keep the floor warm and to prevent it from being slippery. As threshings were added during the winter, they would be scattered and thinned near the door, so people added a wooden board to hold the threshings in -- a threshold. The OED defines threshold originally as, "The piece of timber or stone which lies below the bottom of a door, and has to be crossed in entering a house; the sill of a doorway; hence, the entrance to a house or building.

Tide and Time

See Zeit

Tilde (The ~ mark in Spanish and Portuguese); Title

From the Spanish for the same, an alteration of an obsolete Catalan title, which was from the Latin "titulus," meaning superscription -- from which we also get "title."

Tomato (Eng.); Tomate (Sp.); Pomodoro (It.)

The English and Spanish terms both stem from the Nahuatl (the language of the Aztecs) "tomatl," a vegetable (technically, a fruit) first introduced to Europe by the Spanish. For its part, the Italian term literally means pomo de oro, "golden apple." Incidentally, it was first introduced into Italy by the Spaniards in the Sixteenth Century via Naples (not the island of Sicily, whose cuisine most heavily relies on tomato-based sauces). The reason is that Naples was a Spanish possession during the reign of the Habsburg Emperor Charles V of Spain (I of Germany)(r. 1516-1556).

Trabajar (Spanish); Travailler (French); Trabalhar (Portugues) Work

Travailler, trabajar and trabalhar all mean "to work" in French, Spanish and Portuguese, respectively. They originally came from the Latin word "tripullare" which was the three-sectioned whip that was used by Roman soldiers to encourage conscripted laborers in those provinces of the Roman empire (Gaul, Hispania and Lusitania) to work harder, and thus was used to mean "to torture." This ocurred during the last two or three centuries of the Empire, when oftentimes naked aggression was deemed to be necesary to prevent a complete meltdown of control in the West. Before this time the Latin term "laborar" was used in these provinces, which survives today in Italian as "lavorar" and in English as "to labor."


From the French "travail," meaning, "work." Daniel Boorstin has argued that this came about because, at one time, "traveling" entailed working: learning the language and local customs, etc. Boorstin contrasts this with "tourism" which does not entail any work on your (the tourist's) part.


The derivation of the word trivia comes from the Latin for "crossroads": "tri-" + "via", which means three streets. This is because in ancient times, at an intersection of three streeets in Rome (or some other Italian place), they would have a type of kiosk where ancillary information was listed. You might be interested in it, you might not, hence they were bits of "trivia."

Tsar or Czar

The Russian term "tsar" (or "czar") originally came from the Latin term "caesar," which was adopted as a tile by Roman Emperors after the death of Julius Caesar, as a means of underscoring the legitimacy of their claim to power and of connecting themselves to Caesar's legacy. This term would eventually make its way into Russian and why it did reveals a very deep insight into how Russians viewed the path of historical development, from the fall of the Roman Empire to their independence from 200 years of Mongol rule in the Fifteenth Century. When the Western half of the Roman Empire collapsed in the wake of barbarian invasions around A.D. 479, many of the rulers of the former Eastern half of the Roman Empire (which became the Byzantine Empire) regarded themselves as the torchbearers of the legacy of Rome and of Ancient Greece. However, their rule would also come to an end almost 1,000 years later, when in 1453 they were conquered by a nomadic band of warriors from the Steppes of Russia, the Turks. The Byzantines would leave their mark, however, for in prededing 1,000-year period, their influence had spread over most of the surrounding area (mostly undone in the Middle East after the rise of Islam in the Seventh Century A.D.), most notably in Russia (the Cyrillic alphabet is based on the Greek alphabet and the Russian Orthodox Church was based on the Greek Orthodox Church, intially established by the Byzantines). As a result, when the Byzantine Empire itself fell, the Russians themselves as the second torchbearer and, due to the religious significance of the number "three" (Rome, Constantinople, Moscow), the Muscovite rulers regarded themselves as the final torchbearers of civilization before the second coming of Christ. In order to capture this feeling in a single title, they expropriated the title "caesar." Note that the German "Kaiser" comes from the same.


From the Greek "tyrannos," for "usurper," without a necessary negative implication.


From French 'non partiere' (impartial, neutral). The original word was nunpire, but morphed from "a nunpire" to "an umpire". Or so I've heard.

Usted (Spanish) You (formal)

As any second-level Spanish student knows, this is the polite version of the second-person, singular pronoun which means "You;" however, although it is a second-person pronoun, verbs associated with it are conjugated in the third person (ie, "He," "She," "It"). The reason is that "Usted" is actually a contraction of "Vuestra Merced," which means "Your Grace" (which turned into "usted" via "vuested" then "vsted" then finally "usted"). Apparently, by the late Seventeenth Century the Spanish Crown was so desparate for cash--as it was off fighting wars in the Netherlands and Central and Southern Europe--that it started selling titles of nobility, especially in the New World Colonies; as a result, the pre-existing nobility became increasingly "incensed" at the prospect of being addressed as "Vos"--the previous polite form of address--that they felt that they needed a newer, more elevated form of address to differentiate them from the "pretenders" of noble status. They, therefore, came up with "Vuestra Merced" ("Your Grace") as the more refined alternative as did not DIRECTLY refer to the person in question, but rather INDIRECTLY to the person's state of grace. It is noteworthy that "vos" is still used in Argentine Spanish today.


Greek for "no where."

Viande (French) Meat; and Vivir (Spanish) To Live

Viande is from the Late Latin "vivanda," meaning, "that which is living." Thus related to Vivre (French) and Vivir (Spanish).


From the Latin "victima," meaning, "an animal destined to be sacrified."


From "Villaneus," meaning, "inhabitant of a villa," i.e., a "peasant."


Comes from the Latin vin aigre, meaning "sour wine."


In Old English, "wealcan" meant "to roll"; by Middle English meant "to move about, travel"; and only in Modern English came to mean "walk" as we know it.


From the pre-Christian, Germanic term "wed" or pledge.


From the Proto-Indo-European *wer, meaning "to turn." From this same root, we also get the English words: -ward (toward, inward), worth (from the Old German *werthaz, meaning "opposite," thus "equivalent"), pervert, extro/introvert, divert, controversy, invert, verse, versatile, revert, tergiversation, malversation, anniversary, vertex, vertigo, vertebra; wreath, wrath; worry (from the Old English wyrgan, to strangle), wrong (from the Old Scandanavian *vrang, for "crooked"); verge, converge, diverge; wry, wriggle, wrist, wrestle; warp; rhapsody; worm, vermin; the Latin prefix "re-".

Welt (German) World

Welt is a contraction of the Old High German words, "Wer" and "alt," where "Wer" meant "Man" (From the Latin "Vir" for "Man"--think "virile") and "Alt," which in Old High German, meant "time" but now means "old." So, Welt is Wer + alt, which is "the time of man."

Werewolf (German and English)

Wer + Wolf; "Wer," in Old High German, was "man" (related to the Latin "Vir" for "Man"). Thus, literally, "Wolfman."

Whiskey (Ireland); Whisky (Scotland)

This term originally came from uisge beatha (Scottish Gaelic) and uisce beatha (Irish Gaelic), which both mean "water of life." The word entered English as "whiskey" or "whisky" when Henry II invaded Ireland.


From the Anglo-Saxon "vindr" eage," meaning the "wind's eye."


Comes from the Greek word for wine, oinos (Cretan dialect), which itself was taken from the name of the Greek god who was supposed to have first revealed the secret of wine to the ancient Cretans, Dionysus (Pronounce it without the "Di.").


From the Old English "witan," meaning to know; intelligence.


From the pre-Christian, Germanic term "witan", which means wise, tribal elders (literally, those who follow the way of the Norse god "Wodin" or "Odin").


From the Old English "Wyfmon," meaning, "wife." See Queen.

Work; and Werk (German) Work; Warm; Worm; and Wurst

Work is from the German "Werk" (meaning the same), which is etymologically related to the "warm" and "wurst" (Sausage). "Worm," in turn, comes from "wurst."


From the Old English "wyrm," meaning "dragon."


From the Dutch "Jan-Kees" etc. Jan= short for: Johannes (=John), Kees= short for Cornelis (=Cornelius). All three names were very common in those days (and still are): Jan, Kees and Jan-Kees.

Zeit (German) Time

Related to the German (and English) "Tide." In Old High German, Zeit also meant "to divide, separate."


The centerpiece of the Hindu-Arabic numerical system was the invention of zero--sunya as the Indians called it, and and cifr as it became in Arabic. The term has come down to us in English as cipher, which means "empty" and refers to the zero column in the abacus or counting frame (see "abacus")(The term has also come down to us as "decipher," which means "to determine the meaning of anything obscure"). The Arabic term survives even in Russian, where it appears as tsifra, which is the word for number.