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Exploring Etymology—Q to T

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: Italian quarantina (period of 40 days) from Latin quadragina
Note: Quarantine originally meant a period of isolation lasting 40 days, but the stipulation of the number of days gradually faded out.


Origin: Old French quasser, casser (annul) from Latin cassare from cassus (null, void)
Definition: to reject and declare no longer valid, especially in a legal context


Origin: Spanish diminutive of quesada from queso (cheese) from Latin caesus (cheese)
Definition: a fried or grilled tortilla stuffed with cheese and a variety of fillings


Origin: French from Latin cauda (tail)
Note: Originally, queue was used in English only as a technical term for "tail" in heraldry. The metaphorical sense "line of people waiting" dates to the early 19th century and never caught on in Canadian English.
Related word: queue-jump (to move to the front of a line without waiting for one's turn)


Origin: French from German Kuchen (cake)
Note: Quiche lorraine is a specific type of quiche that contains bacon and originates from Lorraine, France.



Origin: Old Norse rann (house) + saka (search)
Related word: barn, which can be traced back to the Old English aern (house), a relative of the Old Norse rann


Origin: Old English raede from Germanic raithjo (arranged), meaning "prepared"
Expressions: ready-made, ready-to-wear


Origin: Spanish renegado from Latin renegare (deny)
Definition: a deserter (of a political party, religion, etc.); an outlaw
Related words: negative, renege


Origin: Czech robota (forced labour, drudgery), popularized by Karel Capek in his play R.U.R. (Rossum's Universal Robots) (1920)
Related word: robotics (treated as a singular noun)


Origin: Old French rosmarin from Latin ros (dew) + marinus (of the sea), referring to the fact that the plant grew near the coast
Note: Rosemary first entered English as rosmarine, but its modern spelling is attributed to its association with "rose" and "Mary."



Origin: Coined by British writer Horace Walpole (1717-1797) after the fairytale The Three Princes of Serendip
Definition: the faculty of making lucky and unexpected discoveries by accident
Note: Serendip is the former name of Ceylon (modern-day Sri Lanka).


Origin: Gaelic sluagh (army) + ghairm (cry), a war cry
Note: The modern English sense "catchphrase" or "motto" emerged in the 18th century.


Origin: Swedish smor (butter) + gas (goose) + bord (table)
Note: In Sweden, a smorgasbord is a buffet featuring very specific foods, such as open-faced sandwiches.
Note: The figurative sense "medley" or "variety" dates to the mid-20th century.


Origin: Named for the town of Spa in Belgium, known since medieval times for its medicinal mineral springs
Note: In English, spa is also short for spa bath (hot tub).

squash (n.)

Origin: Narragansett (Algonquian) asquutasquash, from asq (uncooked) + squash (green)
Related word: succotash (dish consisting of boiled corn and lima beans) from Narragansett msiquatash



Origin: Inspired by the story of Tantalus, the Greek mythical king of Phrygia who was punished for his crimes by being offered water and fruit that was taken away when he reached for them
Definition: torment by promising something that is unobtainable


Origin: Old French taverne from Latin taberna (hut)
Related word: tabernacle from the Latin tabernaculum (tent), diminutive of taberna


Origin: Greek thesauros (treasure)
Note: Thesaurus emerged in English with the metaphorical sense "treasury of knowledge" and originally applied to any book that contained a wealth of information, such as dictionaries and encyclopedias.


Origin: Turkish tuliband from Persian dulband (turban), referring to the flower's supposed resemblance to a turban


Origin: Japanese taikun (great lord) from Chinese da (great) + jun (prince)
Note: Tycoon emerged in English in the mid-19th century with the generic meaning "important person." It was applied to businessmen after World War I.