Learning a new word rarely involves engaging with it beyond its meaning and pronunciation. After all, how fascinating can a word’s etymology be anyway?
Pretty fascinating, it turns out.
While many English words simply came from Latin, Greek, or other foreign languages, some words have seemingly bizarre, and even downright macabre, beginnings.
Check out the origin stories of these 9 words which will definitely leave you saying “huh?”
Whether you think of the board game or just a revealing item in a mystery novel, the word clue has an interesting history. It's derived from the word clew — a ball of thread — with Germanic roots. However, it’s also believed that the meaning of clue stems from the story of the labyrinth in Greek mythology. Theseus used thread to find his way out, with the clew giving him direction.
A widely believed theory is that this word stems from the use of a literal death line during the American Civil War. A boundary line was placed around prison camps, and if any prisoners crossed it, they would be shot.
This one isn’t as bizarre as it is redundant. “Luke” is a common modern name, but in Middle English it literally meant tepid and was derived from the word lew/lewk/leuk. Yes, that’s right — lukewarm means tepid tepid.
Derived from Latin, lunaticus means moon-struck. It refers to periodic spells of insanity tied to the appearance of the full moon. This is a phenomenon which is still debated as crime tends to spike during full moons.
This word has its roots in Old French, but its translation is quite macabre. Mort gage in French means "death pledge" but modern usage doesn’t refer to the death of the one pledging, but rather the death (end) of the obligation. Quite simply, a mortgage is a payment you’ll be making until completion.
This bodily term is derived from the Greek word mys, which means mouse. The reason why muscles were named after the whiskery mammal is that the shape and movement of some muscles were thought to resemble the shape of mice.
Surprisingly, nightmare has nothing to do with a night horse. In fact, the word mare comes from a mixture of Old and Middle English and refers to an evil spirit which lies upon and suffocates unsuspecting sleepers. Henry Fuseli and Thomas Burke’s painting, The Nightmare, accurately captures the aged definition.
With roots in Latin, salary is derived from the word salarium, with sal meaning salt. Salt was used as a means of payment in ancient Rome, as it was a valuable and expensive commodity.
Sarcasm tends to leave metaphorical wounds on one’s emotional well-being. Its origin — rooted in Ancient Greek — falls under similar sentiments and comes from the word sarkazein, meaning stripping off the flesh.