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Exploring Etymology—A to D

If you've ever wondered about the origins of the English language, you're not alone. Etymology—the study of word origins—is not just for lexicographers and Latin professors. Exploring Etymology traces the history of certain English words and provides pointers, related words and interesting facts. Some words you may use every day, while others may not seem as familiar.

A

aardvark

Origin: Afrikaans aarde (earth) + vark (pig)
Related word: aardwolf

agog

Origin: French en gogues (good humour, merriment)
Note: It is a predicate adjective.
Example: The crowd was agog at the sight of the huge meteor.
Meaning: amazed, eager, excited

anaconda

Origin: Sinhalese (Sri Lanka) henakandaya from hena (lightning) + kanda (stem)
Note: Anaconda refers to a type of snake in South America. In Asia, such snakes are called pythons, from the Greek name of a snake killed by Apollo.

anger

Origin: Old Norse angr (grief) and angra (vex)

astronomy

Origin: Greek astron (star) + nomos (arranging, regulating)
Related words: asteroid, astrologer, disaster
Note: Astronomical was not used to refer to very large figures until 1899.

B

bagel

Origin: Yiddish beygel (bracelet, ring)
Note: The variety of bagel sprinkled with onion flakes is a bialy, from Bialystok, a city in Poland.

bandana

Origin: Hindi bandhunu (tie dyeing) and bandhana (to tie)
Spelling variant: bandanna

barbecue

Origin: Arawak (Caribbean) barbacoa (wooden frame on posts)
Note: As a noun, barbecue can refer to both the appliance used to cook over a flame and a party at which a flame-cooked meal is prepared and eaten.
Note: Barbie is an informal abbreviation originating in Australia.

bazaar

Origin: Persian bazaar
Note: Bazaar means a marketplace or fundraising sale, but in Muslim countries the more common term is souk from the Arabic suk.

booze

Origin: Dutch busen (drink to excess)
Related words: boozer (a person who drinks to excess); booze can (illegal bar)

C

caboose

Origin: Dutch cabuse (wooden cabin on a ship's deck)
Note: The meaning "railway car usually at the end of a train" dates to 1861.

caribou

Origin: Mi'kmaq yalipu (snow shoveller) from its habit of digging through snow to feed on grass
Note: The plural of caribou does not take an s.
Example: I saw three caribou while hiking through the park.

caucus

Origin: Algonquian cau'-cau'as'u (adviser, elder)
Definition: The members of a legislative assembly belonging to a particular party.

cheese

Origin: Latin caseus (cheese)
Note: The word quesadilla is a Spanish diminutive of quesada from queso (cheese) from the Latin caseus.

chocolate

Origin: Nahuatl (Aztec) xocolatl, from xococ (bitter) + atl (water)
Related words: chocoholic, chocolatier

D

daisy

Origin: Old English daeges eage (day's eye) referring to the flower opening at dawn and closing at dusk
Expressions: fresh as a daisy (very fresh or clean, invigorated); pushing up daisies (dead and buried)

decoy

Origin: Dutch de kooi from Latin cavea (cage)
Note: Since 1960, deke has been used as a noun and a verb in North America to refer to a fake movement in ice hockey done to draw a defensive player out of position in order to score.

delicatessen

Origin: German delicatessen, plural of delikatesse (delicacy, fine food) from French délicat (fine)
Note: Deli was first used in 1954.
Note: In North America, a delicatessen is a mix between a fast-food restaurant and a grocery store. In most European countries, a delicatessen specializes in top-quality foods, not fast food. In some parts of Australia, deli also refers to a convenience store.

democracy

Origin: Greek demos (people) + kratia, kratos (power, rule, strength)
Related words: democratic, democratize

dime

Origin: Old French disme from Latin decima pars (tenth part) from decem (ten)
Expression: on a dime (instantly)
Example: Skilful at skateboarding, Jessie can stop on a dime.
Expression: dime a dozen (cheap, commonplace)
Example: In Morocco, ceramic pots are a dime a dozen.
Expression: it's your dime (you can spend your money or time as you see fit)
Example: Go ahead and buy the luxury model; it's your dime.