It’s World Dictionary Day! So who wants an A to Z of some of our favourite etymologies?

AMETHYST stones take their name from the Greek for ‘not drunk’. Ancient Greek folklore claimed drinking alcohol from a vessel made from or containing an amethyst stone would prevent the drinker getting intoxicated.
Because the first ones ever observed by scientists were rod shaped, BACTERIA comes from a Greek root that literally means ‘little stick’.
CHRYSANTHEMUM means ‘golden flower’.
In the sense of a line or limit that can’t be crossed, a DEADLINE was originally a line drawn or dug into the earth around prisoners on Civil War battlefields. Anyone who stepped across the ‘dead line’ would be shot.
Derived from the Latin for ‘buy’, an EMPTION is a purchase. To PRE-EMPT someone originally meant to buy something before they had the chance to buy it themselves.
FLOCCINAUCINIHILIPILIFICATION is the act of assessing something as worthless. It’s built from a chain of Latin roots, all meant to symbolize worthless things: ‘floccus’ (a wisp or tuft of fabric), ‘naucum’ (a trifling thing), ‘nihilum’ (nothing) and ‘pilus’ (a single hair).
GANDER, meaning a male goose, and the verb GANDER, meaning to look at or cast your eye over something, are the same. The verb was coined because people who ‘gander’ at things often appear to crane their necks like geese.
HUSBAND literally means ‘house-dweller’.
‘Insula’ was a Latin word for an island—and is the origin of INSULATE (which literally means ‘to make into an island’), PENINSULA (which literally means ‘almost an island’), and INSULIN (which is produced by cells called the islets of Langerhans).
‘Jejunus’ meant ‘empty’ in Latin—which is why something that is dull and uninspiring is JEJUNE. It’s also why the second part of the small intestine is called the JEJUNUM, because it’s usually found to be empty when it’s dissected or examined.
KNICKERS is shortened from ‘knickerbockers’, which were so named because they resembled the trousers worn by Dutch ‘Knickerbocker’ settlers in 19th century New York. Their name in turn comes from Diedrich Knickerbocker—a Dutch pseudonym of Sleepy Hollow author Washington Irving.
When we go to the LAND OF NOD, we fall or ‘nod off’ to sleep—but the actual Land of Nod was the biblical realm east of Eden, to which Cain was exiled after he killed his brother Abel.
MEDIOCRE literally means ‘halfway up a mountain’.
Words like NUCLEUS and NUCLEAR come from ‘nux’, the Latin word for a nut—a NUCLEUS is literally a ‘little nut’.
ORCHESTRA literally means ‘a place for dancing’.
PINK was originally a dusky yellow colour (and in that sense might come from ‘pinkeln’, an old German word meaning ‘to urinate’). It only came to mean pale red because of the popularity of pink Dianthus flowers—which are so called because of their perforated or ‘pinked’ petals.
The word QUEEN originally just meant ‘wife’. QUEEN BEES were once wrongly assumed to be male, and so were originally called king bees. The Anglo Saxons got it right, though—the Old English word for a queen bee, ‘beomodor’, literally meant ‘bee-mother’.
If you’re RUTHLESS then you’re literally lacking ‘ruth’—an old word for empathy, or sadness for another person’s troubles. Etymologically, ‘ruth’ is the noun form of the verb ‘rue’.
A SLOGAN was originally a battle cry. It comes from the Gaelic ‘sluagh’, meaning ‘army’, and ‘ghairm’ meaning ‘shout’.
In Greek myth, King Tantalus was punished in the underworld by having food and water drawn away from him every time he reached out to eat or drink. It’s from his name that teasing someone with something unobtainable is known as TANTALIZING.
Because it refers to a third party who acts as an adjudicator or overseer, the word UMPIRE comes from ‘nonper’—an Old French word for an odd number.
VENEZUELA literally means ‘little Venice’.
A WINDOW is literally a ‘wind eye’. Before we adopted that word from Norse, the Old English word for a window was ‘eagduru’—literally, an ‘eye-door.’
‘Xenos’, meaning ‘foreign’ or ‘strange’ in Greek, is the origin of XENOPHOBIA—but also XENAGOGUE (a tour guide or guidebook), and the chemical element XENON, which was so named because its discoverer, Sir William Ramsay, assumed that it was incredibly rare.
YACHT comes from an old Germanic word, ‘jachtschip’, that literally meant ‘chasing-ship’.
A ZEUGMA is a figure of speech in which one word applies to two others in the same sentence—as in ”He took his hat, and his leave”. In the sense of linking two things together, it derives from the Greek word for a cattle yoke.

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More from @HaggardHawks

6 Jul
Okay, so where does this name come from? And why, for that matter, is the ace of spades often the most decorated card in a deck?

The answer involves king James II, the English tax system—and ridiculously fluffy chickens.

The tradition of decorating the ace of spades started in the 1600s, when a tax on playing cards was introduced by James II. By law, printers in England were now obliged to stamp their name or insignia on every pack of cards they produced.
Originally, these stamps tended to be nothing more than the printer’s logo or monogram. That meant that their design differed from printer to printer, but they always tended to be stamped in the same place—on the very first card in the deck, the ace of spades.
Read 11 tweets
28 Jun
GANACHE, the rich chocolatey mixture used to top cakes, takes its name from a French word for an empty-headed fool—which in turn derives from an old word for a horse’s lower jawbone.

How did that happen? THREAD! ➡️
Trace it back far enough and you’ll find that GANACHE derives from ‘gnathos’, the Greek word for a jaw. That’s the same root found in words like AGNATHAN (a jawless fish) and COMPSOGNATHUS (the tiny chicken-sized dinosaurs that see off Peter Stormare in The Lost World).
That Greek root fell into use in Latin, then Italian, and finally French in the mid 1600s—where, for some reason, it came to be used of horses’ jawbones in particular.
Read 9 tweets
14 May
The new @HaggardHawks book The Cabinet of Calm is out now!…

A collection of obscure words, all chosen to provide some comfort, inspiration, or peace of mind in hard times.

Here’s a quick thread of some of the #CabinetofCalmWords you’ll find inside…
Derived from a Greek word meaning ‘to recover’, or ‘to double back’, ANACAMPSEROTE is the name of a fabled plant once supposed by herbalists to be able to restore a lost romance.
A HOWF is a popular meeting place, or a regular haunt—so if you’re HOWFFY, then you’re snug and comfortable in a place you know well.
Read 14 tweets
28 Jan
The expression “GOOD DAY, FELLOW!”–“AXE HANDLE!” can be used to call attention to an apparently random or puzzling contribution to a conversation. Adopted from Scandinavia, its roots lie in an 18th century Norwegian comic folktale.

Which goes like this... THREAD! 1/10
The story concerns a hard-of-hearing old ferryman, who has borrowed so much money from friends that he and his poor family have ended up in trouble with the local bailiff. And sure enough, one morning the ferryman sees the bailiff walking down the long road to his home. 2/10
Unsure what the bailiff might want to know, the ferryman decides to prepare for their conversation in advance. So he takes a seat on his porch, and begins to whittle some wood while he thinks. 3/10
Read 10 tweets
10 Dec 19
HAPPY BIRTHDAY @HaggardHawks! 🎂

6 years ago today, HH fluttered into life here on Twitter. Since then, we’ve shared something like 40,000 extraordinary words, from AASVOGEL to ZENZIZENZIZENZIC.

But sometimes, we come across a word that’s too bizarre even for HH…

One question that pops up here more than any other is whether the words HH posts are real. Yes, they really are.

But some words are so bizarre and so eyebrow-raising that if we were just to post them on here, absolutely nobody would believe they were genuine.

So. Here’s a thread of 12 of the weirdest, most ridiculous, most baffling words we’ve ever found. And, yes, these all come from genuine English dictionaries.

Oh, and 🚨 SPOILER ALERT 🚨 – some of these are, er, pretty crude. You have been warned...

Read 16 tweets
20 Nov 19
Some etymological stories are too long to fit into a single tweet, so here’s a quick story about how one man’s awkward encounter with Thomas Jefferson sparked a massively popular 19th century catchphrase. 1/9
Sometime around 1805, a few months into his second term as president, Jefferson was out riding near his home in Virginia when he happened to bump into another man on horseback, who accompanied him the rest the way. 2/9
The man, it soon emerged, was a staunch Federalist, vehemently opposed to Jefferson’s government and its politics. Unfortunately for him, he failed to recognise that his new riding companion was—er, the President of the United States. 3/9
Read 9 tweets

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