WORD ORIGINS

Ever Wondered What Shampoo Means? 10 Everyday Words Decoded for You!


Published on July 4, 2024


Credit: Dmitry Ratushny

Etymology, the scientific study in charge of researching the origin and history of words , is a discipline that definitively doesn’t receive enough credit. Sure, it might not seem to be the most interesting of subjects, but we can guarantee that just scratching the surface of the fascinating origins of our vocabulary can make the least enthusiastic person into an absolute fan of etymology.

Still not convinced? Don’t worry, we got you covered. We have selected ten words with some of the most fascinating, hilarious, and downright mindblowing origins that might turn you into an etymology aficionado. Enjoy!

1

Vaccine

Credit: Mufid Majnun

What do vaccines and cows have in common? You might be surprised to learn that the English word for vaccine comes from the Latin word for cow, vacca . As to the reason why our bovine friends are behind the name of vaccines, it dates back to a milestone in medicine that took place in 19th century England.

British physician Edward Jenner is credited as a pioneer in the field of vaccination, who invented the world’s first vaccine in 1796. Jenner’s hypothesis stated that milkmaids who had contracted cowpox showed some resistance to the smallpox virus, so he inoculated a small boy to protect him from smallpox. The process was successful, and the concept for the first vaccine was born. The word was derived from the scientific name of the cowpox virus, variolae vaccinae.

2

Clue

Credit: Mediamodifier

We’ll start with one that any amateur detective should know. Looking for clues has been the "go-to" activity for any investigator worth his or her salt, from Sherlock Holmes to the Scooby-Doo gang. Still, it would take the brainiest of detectives to actually figure out the origins behind the word "clue" or at the very least, one interested in Ancient Greece.

The modern spelling of clue comes from clew , a word from Ancient English that means "a ball of thread or yarn". Interestingly, the origins of the word go even further, to the Greek myth of Theseus and the Minotaur. In this myth, the Greek hero ventures into the labyrinth on which the fabled monster resides, and is guided by a trail of thread provided by the Cretan princess Ariadne.

3

Nightlife

Credit: Frida Aguilar Estrada

The busy and exciting nightlife of a city is an aspect deeply appreciated by tourists and locals alike: The bright lights and lively scenes attract thousands of people every night with the promise of an unforgettable night. The term "nightlife" tends to describe every fun activity that happens at night, including restaurants, bars, and theaters.

What’s fascinating about this seemingly simple word comes from the fact that its first known use comes from a book by literary giant Herman Melville. In his 1852 novel "Pierre; or, The Ambiguities", the author narrates how a character observes "all the garish night-life of a vast thoroughfare" while waiting for a cab late at night.

4

Whiskey

Credit: Thomas Park

A quote often attributed to American author Mark Twain says "Too much of anything is bad, but too much good whiskey is barely enough". It stands to reason that a well-read man like Twain was at least aware of the etymology of his favorite drink. After all, the meaning behind this word’s origin is almost poetical and truly beautiful.

Ireland has been associated with producing delicious whiskey for hundreds of years now, and with good reason. The English word whiskey is derived from the Gaelic word uisge beatha, which means "water of life" . Nowadays, the Irish word for whiskey is fuisce, but the old Gaelic term uisce beatha is still used.

5

Checkmate

Credit: Felix Mittermeier

Chess is one of the oldest board games in history, dating to at least the 7th century, and while it has evolved up to the point of becoming an internationally recognized sport, its rules have remained mostly unchanged in its thousands of years of history. Naturally, the origins of the word "checkmate" are almost as old as chess itself, and can be traced back to the Persian Empire.

A common misconception is that the word checkmate comes from the Arabic phrase al-shāh māta , which means "the king has died". However, since the losing King notably doesn’t die at the end of a game, chess aficionados believe that a more appropriate candidate could be the Persian term shāh-māt , which roughly translates to "the King is left (without a way to escape)". This better reflects how a King is cornered into a checkmate , but ultimately not captured.

6

Astronaut

Credit: NASA

Like many space-related words, it might come as no surprise to learn that "astronaut" comes from the world of science fiction . It seems only natural: after all, this literary genre has helped humanity dream of a fantastic future, in which mind blowing technology allows us to travel across the stars.

The word astronaut is derived from the Ancient Greek word astron and nautes, which translate to "stars" and "sailor" respectively. The very first use of the word comes from the 1880 novel "Across the Zodiac" by English author Percy Greg, although it was used to describe a spaceship. In 1927, writer Joseph Henri Honoré Boex coined the French term astronautique specifically for a space explorer.

7

Orangutan

Credit: Dan Dennis

We could fill this article with nothing but fascinating facts about orangutans. Who knows? Perhaps one day we will. However, for now, we’ll just focus on the topic at hand because the history behind this word is a clear tribute to the outstanding intelligence of these great apes.

"Orangutan" comes from the Malay words orang , which means "person", and hutan , which means "forest". Therefore, this word can be understood as "person from the forest" . When we consider the orangutan’s remarkable communication and tool-handling skills, the name seems entirely appropriate.

8

Saxophone

Credit: EAVONE Jazzman

This one is rather well-known, but we felt it was too good to ignore. Few instruments can replicate the dulcet and smooth sounds of the saxophone, considered one of the quintessential instruments in jazz music. Should you ever feel the need to thank the inventor of the instrument that provided us with the overwhelming music of players like Charlie Parker or John Coltrane, then you might want to pay tribute to Belgian inventor and musician Adolphe Sax.

In the 1840s, Sax designed the first prototype of the saxophone, seeking to create an instrument with the projection of a brass instrument with the nimbleness of a woodwind. Accordingly, the resulting saxophone was named after its inventor , who also created and named other instruments like the saxotromba, saxhorn, and saxtuba.

9

Shampoo

Credit: Lindsay Cash

Have you ever wondered how the word "shampoo" became synonymous with cleaning hair? The origins of this word might shed some light on this, and it might particularly explain the circular motions that come with washing your hair.

"Shampoo" evolved from the Hindi verb campna or champna, which translates to "to press or knead muscles". The word was brought over by English explorers and merchants who described a vigorous massage (which included hair washing) as "being shampooed". Eventually, the English language adopted this word, but only kept the hair-washing aspect of its meaning.

10

Plumber

Credit: Unseen Histories

We’ll end this article with what we consider the most obscure etymology on this list. Nowadays, a plumber is anyone who specializes in water systems, whether it is installing or repairing them. However, this wasn’t always the case, since the origins of this name describe anyone who works with a specific material.

The word "plumber" directly references the scientific name of lead , which is the Latin word plumbum . Furthermore, if you take a look at the periodic table, you’ll see that the chemical symbol for lead is Pb, two of the letters featured in the word "plumber".


ODDITIES GALORE

10 Astonishingly Weird Guinness Records You Won't Believe Are Real


Published on July 4, 2024


Credit: Domino

From the strangely amusing to the downright absurd , the Guinness World Records are home to some of the most peculiar er… achievements known to humankind. Going through this list, you might find yourself wondering, why would anyone bother to make a world record out of this?

Well, we don’t know either, but we are thankful someone has taken the time to document all these 10 wonderfully weird instances of human creativity.

1

Most Big Macs Consumed

Credit: Annie Spratt

Donald Gorske, a man from Wisconsin, has consumed over 30,000 Big Macs in his lifetime, earning him the record for the most Big Macs consumed. His daily habit of eating two Big Macs has become a legendary feat, and he still claims to look forward to eating them every day.

2

Largest Collection of Rubber Ducks

Credit: Andrew Wulf

Charlotte Lee, a woman from Seattle, has amassed an extraordinary collection of over 9,000 rubber ducks . Her fascination with the cheerfully yellow bath toys has led her to scour the globe in search of unique and rare additions to her impressive collection, being eventually inducted into the Guinness World Records for her ever-growing collection.

3

Largest Collection of Belly Button Lint

Credit: Jason Yoder

Ever stared at your own navel for too long? For Graham Barker, an Australian librarian, this habit became a riveting hobby , as he has meticulously collected his belly button lint since 1984. Today, he has amassed what is recognized as the largest collection of belly button lint, and his unwavering dedication to belly button fluff has earned him a place in the annals of record-breaking oddities.

4

Longest Time Spent Playing a Video Game

Credit: Yara

While it might seem that any teenager can break this record with ease if given free reign, it would actually take some serious dedication - and a lot of stamina! - to beat Carrie Swidecki, a California teacher that set the Guinness World Record for Longest videogame marathon while playing Just Dance for an impressive 138 hours.

5

Farthest Distance Squirting Milk From The Eye

Credit: Anita Jankovic

Yes, you heard right. There is a World Record for the Farthest Distance Squirting Milk From The Eye . Insane as it sounds, Ilker Yilmaz from Turkey holds the record for the farthest milk squirting distance from the eye. In 2004, he squirted milk to an impressive (to be fair, everything about this is quite shocking) distance of 9 feet 2 inches.

6

Longest Mustache

Credit: Alan Hardman

Paul Slosar of Summerville, South Carolina, is the proud record holder for the longest mustache ever . Despite having fierce competition, he broke the world record with an impressive 2 feet 1 inches long whiskers. His meticulously groomed "English" styled facial hair is measured from the top of the lip, so that it cannot be confused with nearby beard hair.

7

Longest Fingernails on a Single Hand

Credit: Yazid N

Shridhar Chillal from India holds the record for the longest fingernails on a single hand, with a combined fingernail length of an astounding 358.1 inches as of 2014. His dedication to growing his nails over decades is as impressive as their lenght, even if the end result might be a little unsettling .

8

Most Toilet Seats Broken by the Head in One Minute

Credit: Point3D Commercial Imaging Ltd.

Again, you might justifiably ask: what have I just read? Well, apparently a man named Kevin Shelley, also fittingly known as "The Iron Head," has shattered 46 toilet seats with his head in just one minute in 2007, securing the world record for the most toilet seats broken by the head in a minute. Even though he probably doesn’t have much competition, it is still an impressive feat - and his pain tolerance has left audiences astonished.

9

Most Bees on a Human Body

Credit: Damien TUPINIER

Gao Bingguo, a beekeeper from China, covered himself in a staggering 1.1 million bees, setting the record for the most bees on a human body . The "mantle" of bees weighed almost 240 pounds, and he was stung over 2,000 times during the whole ordeal, but he survived the attempt thanks to his calm demeanor and affinity with the insects.

10

Longest Time Balancing a Lawnmower on Chin

Credit: Daniel Watson

David Rush, a renowned record-breaker, balanced a lawn mower (fortunately not powered) on his chin for an incredible 30 minutes and 33 seconds, setting the record for the longest time balancing a lawn mower on the chin. He already has over 200 Guinness World Records titles, so who knows what he might come up with next?

Looking for an extra scoop of literary fun?

Learn more with our Word of the day

quibble

/ˈkwɪb(ə)l/