I find the evolution of words and phrases quite fascinating. To explore how a word evolved and transposed from different languages to its modern use amazes me. Fortunately, I am not the only crazy wacko who is interested in a word’s origins and history; there is an entire field that dedicates to studying this.
Etymology is the study of the origin of words and the way in which their meanings have changed throughout history.
Today, I thought I would explore few unusual words and phrases that have metamorphosed over the due course of time. I will investigate their meanings and origins.
A pear-shaped fruit with a rough leathery skin, smooth oily edible flesh, and a large stone.
The word for avocado comes from the Aztec word, “ahuacatl,” which means testicle. Aside from similarities in the shape, avocados also act as aphrodisiacs, foods that stimulate sex drive. Coincidence? I don’t think so.
An arboreal primate with a pointed snout and typically a long tail, found only in Madagascar.
Lemur comes from a Latin word that means “spirit of the dead”. The creatures were named lemurs because of their nocturnal nature.
A sudden accident or a natural catastrophe that causes great damage or loss of life.
Disaster comes from the Greek “dis” meaning bad, and “aster”, meaning star. The ancient Greeks used to blame calamities on unfavorable planetary positions.
A piece of evidence or information used in the detection of a crime.
Clue derives from the word “clew”, meaning a ball of yarn. In Greek mythology, Ariadne gives Theseus a ball of yarn to help him find his way out of the Minotaur’s labyrinth.Because of this, the word “clew” came to mean something that points the way. Appropriately enough, Theseus unraveled the yarn behind him as he went through the maze so that he could work his way back out in reverse. Thus the word “clew” can be understood in this context and in the context of a detective working his way backward to solve a crime using “clues”.
The idea that gods are based on historical heroes whose stories became exaggerated in retelling.
Euhemerism gained momentum after Euhemerus, a fourth-century BCE Greek writer, who proposed that the gods of mythology were based on real heroes whose accounts became exaggerated over time.
An example of euhemerism is Hercules, who was a real person but was deified through the stories of his life and after some time the embellished story was accepted as the real, true story. Now, Hercules is a deity.
An item of food consisting of two pieces of bread with a filling between them, eaten as a light meal.
This snack gets its name from the 4th Earl of Sandwich, John Montagu 250 years ago, the 18th-century aristocrat requested that his valet bring him beef served between two slices of bread. He was fond of eating this meal whilst playing card games, as it meant that his hands wouldn’t get greasy from the meat and thus spoil the cards. Observing him, Montagu’s friends began asking for “the same as Sandwich”, and so the name ‘sandwich’ was born.
A band or bundle of fibrous tissue in a human or animal body that has the ability to contract, producing movement in or maintaining the position of parts of the body.
Muscle comes from a Latin root meaning “little mouse”. Apparently, people used to think muscles looked like little mice under their skin, which is understandable!
A state of armed conflict between different countries or different groups within a country.
Fittingly, war comes from a Germanic root, which means “to confuse”.
A practice intended to establish a political advantage for a particular party or group by manipulating district boundaries.
The rigging of elections is as old as democracy, but the act only gained its name in the 19th century. The governor of Massachusetts in 1812 was Elbridge Gerry, representing the Democratic-Republican party, in opposition to the Federalist party. Seeking to gain the upper hand in the Senate race of that year a bill was passed changing the districts by which voters were grouped. This explains the Gerry portion of the word, but the -mander? The shape of the districts after the passage of the bill was said to resemble a salamander or, as someone suggested, a Gerrymander.
Secretly listen to a conversation.
Before the invention of guttering, roofs were made with wide eaves, overhangs, so that
rainwater would fall away from the house to stop the walls and foundations being damaged. This area was known as the eavesdrop. The large overhang gave good cover for those who wished to lurk in shadows and listen to others’ conversations. Since the area under the eaves was considered part of the householder’s property you could be fined under the Anglo-Saxon law for being under the eaves with the intention of spying.