Look It Up

Language is a journey. Each word we speak has traveled from its origin, modulating in form and meaning as the miles progress. Oftentimes the route crosses continent and millennium alike, arriving in our dictionaries with an untold story. To understand our language, we must understand where our words came from. The map of that journey is etymology. An etymologist traces the history of words, locating their first usage, how they have evolved, and other information that comes in handy for impressing first dates.

This is not to be confused with entomology, the study of bugs, which are disgusting and should be eradicated from the face of creation.

Here now, AN presents the etymologies of some common words — perhaps words you have used in conversation today! Though probably not.

Hook • 13th Century, from the Old English hauk, a curved piece of iron used to handle infants.

Chimney • From the ancient Greek chimera, a mythical beast which breathed smoke and often clung to the sides of houses during winter.

Muzzle • Mid-15th century, entered parlance in the court of an Italian count named Muozzoli, who was notoriously hard to understand.

Glossary • From the Latin gloci, meaning "daft" or "mad," evolved into French glossaire, "to list things with a precision that borders on batshit crazy."

Beanbag • 1880s, from the Danish bienbacht, a popular type of chair that offered near-perfect comfort, but which drew odd looks if owned by someone over the age of 25.

Intimidation • Built from Latin prefix inti, meaning "through," and midatus, the act of running away screaming like a child — an act that was deemed honorable among the patricians of Rome.

Piggyback • Earliest usage in 1730s Philadelphia, where riding a pig was a common form of transportation.

Impenetrable • Late 12th century impfenetre, compound of "imp" and "fenêtre," the French word for "window." According to lore, imps have some of the hardest to open windows in all of Hades.

Pasture • Origin unknown, likely coined in 14th century because nothing rhymed with "moisture."

Eradicate • 16th century, derived from Slavic eradsma, an endless hate that is all-consuming, especially when referring to bugs.