Thursday, December 29, 2022

Most Mind Bending Etymology

It was hard to narrow it down to only these ones. Frankly, there’s a lot more that could have gone on this list.
1. Ass (donkey) and ass (butt) aren’t related.
Which is why the latter is “arse” outside of the United States. The donkey one is thought to be from the Latin asinus, while the other one came (through Proto Germanic, so not Latin) from the Proto Indo European ors-, backside.
2. We use the Italian spelling for colonel and the French pronunciation.
Seriously, it showed up in the sixteenth century as coronel, from the French coronel. The Italian word for it is colonella, the commander of a column of soldiers (column being where the word comes from). And for some reason, English started spelling it the Italian way, and while sometimes they also pronounced it that way, it was the French pronunciation that ultimately stuck.
3. Onion comes from the word union.
It’s just… not what you’d expect. Onion is literally from union, because onions were “unified” in successive layers. It makes sense when you think about it, but what a stupid reason for naming something.
4. Platinum, AKA lesser silver.
Speaking of stupid reasons to name something, the Spanish word for silver is plata. When Spanish colonies in Mexico found this silver ore, it was called platina, as it was a lesser silver. English copied their word for it and through the standard ending for periodic elements on it, and now we have platinum.
5. Sweet is related to persuasion.
Talk about WTF connections. But yes, sweet is related to persuasion. Both are from the Proto Indo European root swad-, which means sweet or pleasant, meaning persuasion (and dissuasion, for that matter) is the aberration. For some reason swad- evolved into suadere in Latin, to urge or persuade. And that’s why we have persuade.


  1. I actually knew #2. I can't remember where I saw it, though. It was a whole discussion on some of the compromises English made when adapting words from other languages. It talked about stupid decisions about spelling and such. I want to say it was from The Story of English, but I can't be certain.

    1. Actually, it's The Adventure of English. Turns out it's on YouTube.


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