18 Truly Surprising Word Origins

Warning: You will never look at lemurs the same way again. This one’s for linguaphiles and lemurphobes alike.

1. Fizzle

Back in the 17th century when people didn’t have cell phones and essentially had nothing to do except talk about farting, “Fizzle” meant to break wind without making a noise. The word comes from the Old English fisting, which means farting, and it’s totally related to our word “Feisty,” which, weird.

2. “Kibosh”

The prevailing theory is that “kibosh,” as in “to put the kibosh on something,” comes from the Gaelic cie bais, which means “cap of death,” a thing executioners used to put on in the mornings so as to look more badass and terrifying when they killed people. Let’s all agree never to say “kibosh” again.

3. Vagina

Vagina is Latin for sheath. Feminism hadn’t been invented when they came up with that one.

4. Penguin

“Penguin” comes from the Welsh pen meaning “head” and gwyn meaning “white.” The Welsh person who came up with this one wasn’t blind — he or she was just referring to the great auk, now extinct. RIP, the great auk, with your beautiful white head. I am sad now.

5.

“Avocado” (from the word “Ahuacatl”), comes from an Aztec language called Nahuatl, and the Aztecs weren’t afraid to call things like they saw them. What I am saying is that the Aztecs saw avocados like testicles.

6. Dachshund

Well, KIND OF. Dachshund actually means Badger Dog (“dachs” = “badger” and “hund” = “dog” in German), but they used to be called Dachs Kriegers, which is SO MUCH COOLER because it means “Badger warrior.” Newfound respect for dachshunds.

7. Namby-Pamby

The word “Namby-pamby” was originally a harsh burn on the poetry of this guy called Ambrose Philips who wrote insufferable garbage like “Timely blossom, Infant fair, Fondling of a happy pair …”. It is essentially just a baby-ification of his first name, and it sucks for him that this is the only way history remembers him.

8. Juggernaut

“Juggernaut” is a Sanskrit reference to the Ratha Yatra temple car (the word is a corruption of the name of the deity, Lord Jagannath, to whom the temple is dedicated). The only thing you really need to know about the Ratha Yatra temple car is that it was AWESOME, and that it was reputed to “crush devotees under its wheels.” Raddest car in town, IMHO.

9. Whiskey

Whiskey (or whisky) comes from the Gaelic words uisge beatha, which literally mean “water of life.” Scottish people take their drinking really fucking seriously.

10. Vodka

“Vodka” is a diminutive of the Russian word for water, voda. So saying “Vodka” is essentially like calling it your “Little water” or, like, your “Waterkins,” like you are in some overly cutesy PDA-heavy relationship with it and OMG get a room already.

11. Lemur

Lemur comes from the Latin for ghosts, Lemurēs, because of their ghost-like faces. And yes, now I am afraid of lemurs.

12. Smart Aleck

The phrase “Smart Aleck” refers specifically to a (literal) pimp named Alec Hoag, who teamed up with his wife in 1840s New York to trick people out of their money. His wife would seduce the men and bring them home, and Aleck would sneak into the room through a secret sliding wall and steal their stuff while they were sleeping. Back in the 1840s, this kind of thing was thought to be just unbelievably smart.

13. Loophole

Loophole (also called a “murder-hole”) originally referred to the slits in castle walls that archers would shoot their arrows through. It kind of makes sense because it is like a small opening, or an “out,” to get you out of trouble with the law. What I am saying is next time you’re in legal trouble, just cut a hole in your wall and shoot an arrow at someone. Works every time.

14. Tragedy

“Tragedy” comes from the Greek τραγῳδία (tragodia) meaning the song of the male goat. The ancient Greeks thought goats were crazy sad, apparently. Also, they used to have performances where a chorus would dance around a goat and then ritually sacrifice him. Which is pretty damn sad, if you think about it.

15. Sleazy

Sleazy is thought to come from Silesian cloth, which in the 17th century was pretty top-quality cloth, but over time obviously fell way the hell out of favor.

16. Salmon

Salmon comes from the Latin word for “To jump,” salire, and that actually totally makes sense when you think about it. For a fish, salmon are unbelievably good at jumping.

17. Sycophant

OK, this one is the weirdest of all, and of course it’s the ancient Greeks again, just being weird. Sycophant comes from συκο (suko), which means “Fig” and φάντης (phantes) which refers to people showing or revealing something. BEAR WITH ME I AM ALMOST FINISHED.

Anyway, apparently back in the deezy exporting figs used to be against the law, but people did it anyway. And the jackasses who told on them to the cops were called “fig revealers.” The rest is history.

18. Mortgage

The word “Mortgage” comes from the Old French mort (dead) and gage (pledge), and now I don’t want to buy a house anymore.

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