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Exploring Etymology—E to H

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: Old Norse egg, related to Old English aeg
Expression: Egg on (incite, provoke) is derived from the Old Norse eggja (edge).
Example: They egged him on to steal the child's money.


Origin: Portuguese ema (ostrich)
Definition: large, flightless Australian bird, similar to an ostrich


Origin: Greek ainigma from ainissomai (speak in riddles) from ainos (fable, riddle)
Definition: a puzzling thing; a person whose character baffles others; a riddle or paradox


Origin: Latin ex (out of) + cappa (cloak), literally "out of one's cloak or cape"
Related words: escapee, escapism, escape clause


Origin: Greek heureka (I have found it!)
Note: Archimedes supposedly shouted "Eureka!" after solving a problem.


feng shui

Origin: Chinese feng (wind) + shui (water)
Definition: a system of spiritual influences in natural surroundings; the art of placing objects to promote a healthy flow of chi (life energy)


Origin: French flamboyer (to flame) from flambe (flame)
Note: Originally, flamboyant denoted an architectural style characterized by flame-like curves. The sense "ornate, showy" dates to the 19th century.


Origin: Welsh gwlanen from gwlan (wool)


Origin: English fool's + cap referring to a type of paper that was originally watermarked with a court jester's cap
Definition: a type of legal-sized paper that is usually lined


Origin: German Fuchs + Latin -ia. Latinized name of German botanist Leonhard Fuchs (1566)
Note: The Latin termination -ia commonly denotes a condition, quality or entity.
Note: The sense "bright purple-pink shade of red" dates to the early 20th century.



Origin: Irish go leor (sufficient, enough)
Note: Galore is an adverb meaning "in abundance" and always follows a noun.
Example: In the Byward Market, you'll find flowers galore.


Origin: Icelandic Geysir, name of a specific hot spring in Iceland, from Old Norse geysa (to gush)
Definition: a hot spring from which hot water and steam are ejected periodically
Note: The most famous geysers are found in Iceland, New Zealand and the United States.


Origin: Old Norse gipt, which corresponds to the Old English gift (singular = payment for a wife; plural = wedding)
Note: The expression "to look a gift horse in the mouth" (to find fault with something given as a gift) comes from the practice of assessing a horse's age by looking at its teeth.


Origin: African origin, likely from Bantu (Angolan) kingombo (okra)
Definition: a thick, spicy chicken or seafood soup with okra as the main ingredient


Origin: Chinese gonghe (co-operate, work together)
Note: Gung-ho was a slogan adopted by the US Marines in WWII. The adjective became more widely used in North America in the 1960s.
Note: In English, gung-ho is used as an adjective meaning "enthusiastic."
Example: The students were gung-ho about the idea of going to an amusement park for their field trip.



Origin: Arabic az-zahr (gaming die, luck, chance)
Note: In addition to being a noun, hazard is also a transitive verb meaning "to suggest, venture."
Example: You must hazard a guess if you want to win.


Origin: Japanese hi (fire) + hachi (bowl, pot)
Note: In North America, a hibachi is a small hot plate or grill heated by charcoal, commonly used as a portable barbecue. However, traditional Japanese hibachis are used for heating, not cooking.


Origin: Greek hippos (horse) + potamos (river)
Note: The plural of hippopotamus is hippopotamuses or hippopotami.


Origin: Old English ham (dwelling, house, village)
Note: The suffix -ham (Buckingham, Nottingham) is derived from this sense.
Related words: homely, homestead, homing
Expressions: homebody (a person who enjoys staying at home), homebrew (beer or other alcoholic beverage brewed at home), homestyle (said of food prepared at home)


Origin: Spanish huracán and Portuguese furacão from the Carib hurakán meaning "God of the storm"