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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.



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


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


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.


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


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.



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


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


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.


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.


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



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.


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.


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


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


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



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)


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.


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.


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


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.