We all have a few favorite words of our own. Some are playful and short like 'squishy,' and others are more sophisticated and harder to pronounce, like "callipygian" (having shapely buttocks). But where did these words come from, and what historical events shaped their making? These people share fascinating stories about words we hear or read about in our daily lives. Enjoy!
1. The word 'daisy' comes from the Old English for 'day's eye', as the flowers open during the day and shut again at night.
2. My favorite latin prefix is pen-, which comes from paene, which means almost. So a peninsula is almost an island, the penultimate thing is almost last, etc...
*(And penetrate means I can almost satisfy a woman. Jks).
3. Slang: Popularized in English during the mid-18th century, slang referred specifically to the lexicon of tramps and thieves. Its origin may have been Norwegian, derived from the phrase “slengja kjeften,” which literally meant “to sling the jaw,” but which carried the implication “to abuse with words.”
Its current meaning—informal but vivid colloquial speech used as a deliberate substitute for other terms or concepts in the same vernacular—became common in the early 19th century. The use of "slang" was popularized around the same time as the word “slangwhanger,” an American English term meaning "one who uses abusive slang" or "a ranting partisan," especially one with orange hair (just kidding).
Tragically, slangwhanger is uncommon in our current lexicon. (Edit: I'm seeing many people insisting that "slang" is short for "shortened language."
I am unable to find a reputable source verifying this, and some outright say that it is false. I'm also doubtful that this is the case because slang terms aren't necessarily shorter than the terms they replace.
Example: "too big for [one's] britches" replaces "arrogant" or "cocky." On the contrary, the factors required for colloquialisms to qualify as slang are that they are informal, and they are specific to a particular social group or culture. I'm going to say this is probably false, but I definitely see why it's been spread as a believable factoid!)
4. My favorite word origin is "muscle" - derived from the Latin word "musculus", which translates to "little mouse". When physicians were first observing the musculature, it is said that they remarked that the muscles in the biceps and calves (most notably) looked like mice running under the skin.
5. Periwinkle: Since the 1500s, the word periwinkle has been used as the name of two distinct items: an edible sea snail and a broadleaf evergreen plant—or, in its adjective form, the color of said evergreen plant. (Edit: Technical correction/clarification via /u/seasidesarawack — As an adjective, periwinkle refers to the color of the periwinkle flowers, not the plant itself. The color is a mild blue-violet shade; the plant itself is dark green.)
Intriguingly enough, each of the two noun forms comes from a distinct root with disparate—though not entirely unrelated—origins. The name of the plant is a diminutive form of the 12th century English word “parvink,” which is derived from the Old English word “perwince,” which is in turn derived from “pervinca,” the Late Latin word for the periwinkle plant. “Pervinca” is likely derived from the verb “pervincire,” which means “entwine” or “bind.” More literally, “pervincire” could be read as “thoroughly bound,” from “per-“ (“thoroughly”) and “vincire” (“to bind or fetter”). This root presumably refers to the way the creeping plant grows, thickly and carpet-like, across the ground or other surfaces, entwining anything in its path.
What does that have to do with snails, you ask? The common periwinkle is a marine mollusk native to the northeastern Atlantic Ocean—particularly the European coastline—though they can now be found on North American coastlines as well, perhaps having traveled over while attached to mid-19th Century sea vessels. These hitchhiking gastropods were likely called periwinkles as a cultural variation on their Old English name, “pinewincle.” With entirely different origins from “parvink,” “pinewincle” is comprised of the Old English “pine-"—which is derived from the Latin word “pina” (mussel, originally from the Greek “pine”)—and “wincel,” which means “spiral shell” and comes from the Proto-Germanic prefix “winkil-“ (bend, curve).
While it’s fascinating that two words implying curling, bending, binding and entwining came from entirely different origins, it’s not entirely clear why these two nouns converged into a homonym/graph/phone. It seems likely that it’s due to the similarity between the sounds and meanings—particularly those of the diminutive attribute of the plant’s name that implies its entwining growth (“winkle” from Latin) and the portion of the snail’s name that describes its curved shell (the Old English-Germanic “wincel” turned “winkle”). So, if you’ve ever asked yourself that age-old question, “What the heck do flowers and snails have in common?” the answer is periwinkle.
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