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Exploring Etymology—I to L

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.

I

igloo

Origin: Inuktitut igloo (house)

iguana

Origin: Spanish from Carib iwana (lizard)

impede

Origin: Latin impedire, from in + pes (foot), literally "shackle the feet"
Related words: impedance, impediment

infant

Origin: Latin infans (unable to speak)
Note: Infantry comes from the Italian infanteria, a force composed of soldiers too young for cavalry.

insulin

Origin: Coined in English from the Latin insula (island) because the hormone is produced in the pancreas by the islets of Langerhans

J

jade

Origin: French le jade for l'ejade from Spanish piedra de ijada (stone of the flank), referring to the belief that the stone cured colic (pain in the side)

jalapeño

Origin: American Spanish chile jalapeño (chili pepper cultivated in Jalapa, a city in Mexico)
Note: In English, jalapeño may also be spelled jalapeno, without the tilde over the n.

jambalaya

Origin: Louisiana French from Provençal jambalaia
Definition: a spicy Cajun rice dish with a variety of seafood or meat

jubilee

Origin: Old French jubilé from Hebrew yobel (ram, ram's horn trumpet)
Note: In Jewish history, a jubilee is a year of emancipation and restoration celebrated every 50 years and proclaimed by the sounding of a ram's horn. Today, the primary sense of jubilee is a 25th, 50th or 60th anniversary.
Example: In 2002, we celebrated Queen Elizabeth's Golden Jubilee.

jungle

Origin: Hindi jangal from Sanskrit jangala (desert, forest, uncultivated land)
Note: The sense "notoriously ruthless, lawless or competitive place" dates to the early 20th century.
Expression: law of the jungle (a state of fierce competition)
Example: The field of journalism is a jungle; you must have a top-notch résumé if you want to get ahead.

K

kahuna

Origin: Hawaiian kahuna (priest, expert, wise man)
Note: The expression big kahuna (big shot, important person) dates to the 1950s.

kaput

Origin: German kaputt, from French faire capot (capsize; be without a score in the card game piquet)
Note: This adjective is never placed before a noun.
Example: Elsa's car was kaput after the accident this winter.
Meaning: out of order, broken, useless, ruined

ketchup

Origin: Amoy (Chinese dialect) k'e-chap (brine of pickled fish)
Note: Originally a fish sauce, early English versions of this popular condiment contained mushrooms, walnuts, anchovies and oysters. Tomatoes were added only in the late 19th century.
Spelling variant: catsup (especially in the United States)

kiosk

Origin: French kiosque from Turkish kiushk (pavilion) from Persian gus (palace)
Note: In some countries, such as Turkey and Iran, a kiosk is a small garden pavilion. In Britain, telephone booths are called kiosks.
Compound words: information kiosk, electronic kiosk

kosher

Origin: Hebrew kaser (proper, suitable)
Note: Strictly speaking, kosher is said of food or premises in which food is prepared or eaten in accordance with Jewish law. However, the general sense "correct" or "legitimate" is commonly used in English.
Example: My boss said that it wouldn't be kosher to give our friends the employee discount.

L

leg

Origin: Old Norse leggr (leg, bone) from Germanic
Expressions: break a leg (good luck); to be on (one's) last legs (near death, at the end of one's usefulness); legwork (work involving a lot of physical activity to collect information, etc.)

lieutenant

Origin: Old French lieu (place) + tenant (holding), literally "placeholder"
Note: "LEFtenant" is the official pronunciation in the Canadian Forces, but most Canadians say "LOOtenant."

loiter

Origin: Middle Dutch loteren (stand around idly)

luau

Origin: Hawaiian lu'au,which is the name of a dish made of young taro leaves
Note: The plural of luau is luaus.

luggage

Origin: Swedish lugga (pull by the hair)
Note: Luggage became the usual word for "passenger baggage" in the early 20th century.