Wacky word origins

Dictionary

Where words end up if they become all-stars: the dictionary. Image courtesy of jdurham, Morguefile.

I’ve got to hand it to English — it’s a democratic language. It uses words from all over the world and from different eras. It grows constantly, because new words are added all the time.

The origin of some words is pretty obvious. Judo, karate, kimono and tsunami come from Japan, while Germany gave us noodle, nix, snorkel and spiel. France offered us ballet, garage, liberty, pleasure and marriage. From the Caribbean, we’ve taken hurricane, barbecue, canoe, hammock and mosquito. (I’m not a big fan of mosquitoes — can we give those back?)

I always think it’s interesting to know the origins of words and commonly used phrases. Ever heard of the word defenestration? This word is guaranteed to stump almost everyone since it’s so obscure, and it’s hilarious to hear people try to guess the meaning of it. It comes from the Latin prefix de- (down) and the word fenestra (window). Give up? It’s the act of tossing somebody or something out of a window. Ouch.

I also like the phrase “hands down” (as in “He was the clear winner, hands down”), which comes from British horse racing. When a jockey had the lead in a race and there was no chance whatsoever of anybody catching up with him, the jockey would put his hands down, allowing the horse to continue galloping across the finish line.

And yet more words have been added in recent years. You “unfriend” somebody on Facebook, or admit that you’re a “Gleek” (a fan of the TV show “Glee” + “geek”). And let’s not forget “staycation” (popular until the U.S. economy recovers), “dramedy” and “romaction,” which I’ve seen mentioned in news articles and entertainment reviews.

I can’t wait to see where English goes in the future. One thing’s for sure: It’s going to be entertaining.

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269 Comments

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269 responses to “Wacky word origins

  1. Interesting post. Defenestration, what a great word. I’m looking forward to dropping that in future conversation. Thanks for expanding my vocabulary. English certainly is a living, breathing language.

  2. Jaclyn

    Love this post! I think word origins are fascinating. And funny story about the word “defenestration” — my childhood best friend went through a phase where he was extraordinarily goofy in late high school. He talked either like Goat Boy or in a bizarre squeaky voice and constantly repeated catchphrases like “I got a mango Jeep!” or “Hey dude, wanna buy a biiiiiiike?” (Fortunately he was attractive and popular enough to pull off this class clown act and it just made him even more well liked. I shudder to think what would’ve happened if I’d tried it.) Anyway, one day in physics class the teacher asked me what color my nail polish was (I was going through a phase of my own, in which I painted my nails a different color every day). I said “mango” and, predictably, my friend piped up with “I got a mango Jeep!” The teacher said, “A., if you don’t shut up about the Jeep, I’m going to defenestrate you.” A. goofily said “Oh NO!” The teacher groaned, “Do you even know what that means?” and A. — shocking everyone — correctly answered (in squeaky voice, no less), “It means…trow me out de window!” That was 1999, and to this day we still laugh about the word defenestrate and say “It means…trow me out de window!”

    • Out of the mouths of class clowns came forth wisdom. Thanks for sharing this, Jaclyn!

      • Another gem – when out to dinner with my parents, my brother, A. and his parents, A. made a comment about the “ambience” in the restaurant. A.’s mom said, “A., what does ambience mean?” and A. replied – correctly again, and shocking everyone again – “It’s when they turn the lights down and I can’t read the darn menu!” LOL. He actually grew up to be a very smart aeronautical engineer and productive member of society, but we’ll never forget that he used to refer to us as “Goat Family.” Nor will we ever let him live down his goofy phase.

      • I like the sound of A. ROTFL. I think A. should write one of those little paperback books. He’s got a great and original way of defining words.

  3. Really enjoyed this post! I am guilty of poring over books studying word, phrase and slang origins. Makes for marvelous reading!

  4. What about a little enlightenment into why a building is razed to the ground as opposed to being leveled? Why flammable and inflammable mean the same but unflammable doesn’t exist? Or why something can be described as defunct, but never funct? Just a few examples I could think of on the spur of the moment, I’m sure there are a lot more.

    • And then there’s overwhelmed and underwhelmed, but never just “whelmed”…

      • LOL indeed there is. Well said!

      • And impressed, which is nothing to do with pressed.
        And important, but not just portant
        And hapless, but not hapful
        And why oh why isn’t hopeless the opposite of hopeful?

      • And if you want to get really esoteric, why do “public school” and “private school” have different meanings in Great Britain? We’re left to wonder, I guess.

      • And I can never explain to my German-speaking friends why you “take over” a task or a lead, and not “overtake”, unlike in German. Same goes for many, many other words English has taken from German.

    • Oh, and how about ‘gormless’ – you never talk about someone being ‘gormful’, do you? I mean, what is ‘gorm’?

    • kibbled

      And if you want to get really esoteric, why do “public school” and “private school” have different meanings in Great Britain? We’re left to wonder, I guess.

      Different meanings in different parts of Great Britain too.

      A public school in England is the same as a private school in Scotland.

      As many schools were started, in England, by churches and you had to be in that particular church they were only open to certain people. These were the “private” schools. When other schools admitted anyone, for a fee, then these were known as “public” schools.

      In Scotland, those who pay for education, i.e. that which is not funded by the state, attend private schools.

      • Fascinating! Thanks, Kibbled, for sharing this educational tidbit with all of us. :-)

      • All very true and all very confusing. And in England those who are the beneficiaries of a Comprehensive Education usually leave school knowing nothing.

      • A great pity. Maybe part of the secret is getting people interested enough to WANT to learn. And this is where social media and technology can help us.

      • It’s a big job. But with the right leadership people’s attitudes could be changed. Trouble is these days most of the social media mob just want to be famous – they don’t realize that those who have achieved fame are either very talented or work extremely hard at learning their trade, or in many cases both.

  5. I agree on giving back the mosquitoes. :D

  6. Fascinating!! Thank you. **smile** Oh, how I love discovering the meaning behind common phrases!! Many are so oblivious that words/phrases they use daily may have negative origins. For example, “rule of thumb” — based on English law, a man could legally beat his wife with a stick no bigger than the width of this thumb. Nice. Since learning this…I’ve removed that phase from my everyday use!! Thanks for the great read.

  7. Ah, now you’ve hit a topic that is near and dear to my heart. And ‘defenestrate’ is a word that my friends and I use with frequency out in Berkeley (and by ‘with frequency’ I mean we’ve used it five or six times over the course of two years, but for that word I’d say it’s pretty frequent!). Glad to know it stumps people on the Internet as much as it does in West Coast conversation. :)

    • And there I was, thinking I was only one of three people who knew what “defenestrate” means (the other two are the dictionary’s writer and a bearded, mildly shabby English professor who mutters Shakespeare to himself as he’s munching his lunchtime peanut butter sandwiches). From the comments on my blog, a lot more people are aware of this word than I thought! :-)

  8. I learned something today! :) And unfriend…I wonder if that will catch on outside of FB?

    • I could see “unfriend” becoming a part of our ordinary conversational language. It could happen. :-)

      • In Urdu/Hindi, we have a word for “unfriending” someone. When we were kids, we used it all the time. If we no longer like a friend, we would say we are “Kutti” with him/her. BTW, “kutti” needs to be pronounced with a hard “t” like “ton” not the soft “t” like in “three”. If you pronounce it with the soft “t,” you are basically calling that person a nasty name.

  9. LOVE THIS! As a professional writer/editor, you’ve totally tapped into my geeky side here.

    And by the way, I absolutely have a few candidates in mind for defenestration…in fact, my latest blog post may just offer up a few…
    ;)

  10. You’ve been Freshly Pressed, Editor! So happy to see this. Do you think “Freshly Pressed” might become one of those wacky descriptive phrases?

  11. Just want you to know I was a fan even before you were freshly pressed – congrats!

  12. The word defenestration is now going on my list of new words that I need to remember. Thanks. :)

  13. Very good read! I loved learning “hands down,” because I had never given any thought to where that came from.

    Cheers!

  14. Great post. Defenestration is a great word. I actually wrote a poem based on it after asking someone to give me a random word and they chose defenestration. Check it out if you like.

  15. Love this – fun post! Agreed – the English language is fascinating! I recently spent a day in a heritage printing shop and learned so much about the origins of printing and also such words as ‘upper and lower case’ and also the phrase ‘Out of sorts’. Apparently, each typeface was called a ‘sort’ – if the press man got to the end of his composition and ran out of a certain ‘sort’ – he was then “out of sorts” and would have to begin the composition all over again (obviously frustrating). ‘Upper and lower case’ came from the shelf the pressman used for placing his typeface. The larger letters were put on the upper case shelf – the smaller letters on the lower case shelf.

    Anyways…so fun to find where words come from! Thanks for your post!

  16. Congratulations on being freshly pressed. I just found a minute or two ago.

  17. Good article, very informative!

  18. I teach 4th grade language arts and my vocabulary curriculum is based on Greek roots and common prefixes/suffixes. I love teaching about word origins! My favorite words — superfluous and malevolent.

    • Some of the origins for words and phrases are so fascinating, aren’t they? One of my comments today involved the origin of “out of sorts”. Take a look, I think you’d enjoy it. :-)

    • Stephaniee

      Me, too. Had been driving the Latin/Greek suffixes and prefixes home for many years as a biology teacher. Now I have English Language learner certification pending. Love language.

  19. Oooer, I LOVE etymology! There is something so fascinating about finding out where words come from.

    Congrats on Freshly Pressed, Eagle Eye! Very cool post. :)

  20. Take a look at the Dictionary of the Underworld, great fun and more to add to your wacky words! A great post. I’ve got poems on my blog using baseball and/or computer terms: fun to write!

  21. Great post! I love etymology (and what better excuse to use the word ‘etymology’?!). :-) I recently discovered where the phrase ‘crossing the Rubicon’ comes from: a river crossed by Caesar’s army, from which they could not return. Interesting.

  22. Fun post, and congrats on being freshly pressed.

  23. I knew defenestration … thank you, World History class (Defenestration of Prague).

    I’ve got a 5-year-old son, so I’m constantly having to explain words and phrases to him. Sometimes it’s enjoyable.

    Congrats on the FP.

  24. That is some really interesting word info, especially to a word-geek like me .. I love reading word origins and even more fascinated when some writers name their characters with words that match their personality. Great post. :)

    Congrats on freshly pressed. :)

    • I love it when a character’s name fits their personality, too! John Thornton of Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South is a perfect example; he starts out being prickly, but mellows and is a nicer man later in the book.

  25. Congrats on the FP! I love the use of words and phrases and their history.
    My favorite mis-word is one I (obviously) made up. When the weather is not great, I say it is “incremental.”

    Take care,
    Tania

  26. I love the English language. So much ridiculousness and awesome.

  27. Very entertaining! I also love the origins of words, their meanings and guessing at the future of the English language and it has been the subject of some of my posts. I love your take on it!

  28. Ah, thank you for enlightening me on “hands down”, I’ve recently wondered.

  29. This is an enriching post, especially for those of us with small vocabularies! (At least dictionary.com says I have a small vocabulary.)

  30. Great post! Sometimes I look up phrases online to figure out what certain idioms really mean and where they come from. Entertaining to read some of the origins…

  31. I have to admit, I’m not a big fan of the made up or joined words that Webster seem to add every year … but it does keep it interesting. Enjoyed reading your take on this!

  32. Great post! Whaddya know? You do learn something new everyday! You should check the urban dictionary; it’ll make your eyes bleed.

  33. Tumblr seems to invent new words every day, or at least in my experience. :D After all, it’s where all the Sherlockians, Whovians and Potterheads hang out and have shipping wars, so…

  34. Great post. The origin of idioms, like words, is also interesting. I never realized that the phrase “tied up in knots” originated in mattresses being tied up in Shakespearean England until I visited Stratford-on-Avon and the tour guide told me!

  35. Of course, being a “democratic” language creates a lot of blur and misunderstanding. Consider the way “enormity,” with its longstanding meaning of “great evil,” is applied in place of “immensity.” Or “bussing,” as in “kissing,” gets applied for “busing.”

    Being an editor is a losing battle, it seems. Especially when it comes to the paycheck.

  36. Interesting, I’ve never really thought about how diverse the English language is, pulling from all languages. I agree that it is interesting to see what new words and phrases we come up with in the future as I love new catchphrases. Have you ever been to urbandictionary.com? It has tons of word meanings that aren’t in the dictionary but are slang terms…very fun to goof around on.

  37. Wow. The best part of this was the hands down thing! So cool! I love etymology as well.

  38. I love the origins of words and recently came across spiv … any guess to what it means …

    • Ah, a challenge! I checked Wikipedia, which gives several origins. The one I like the best is that “spiv” is Cockney backslang and it comes from VIPs spelled backward. Since “spiv” means a petty criminal and the total opposite of any Very Important Persons, it fits!

  39. I knew “defenestration” because my 6th grade teacher demonstrated the word. Using a student.

  40. Words and idioms are amazingly funny and sometimes revealing about a culture. Take “a good rule of thumb” for instance! Great work on this post!

  41. You know how teachers say the words in rap songs are not proper English? Well, according to linguists, who study the origins of words, they are English, they’re just another dialect.

  42. Latin is GREAT for learning etymology. Ancient Greek, even better — though those words are pretty complicated (rhododendron, rhinoceros).

  43. You remind me of a post I wrote called The Charlie Horse and the Spoon when I read this. Good post and Congrats on being FP.

  44. Following you for this! More please!

  45. nycelectriciannewyorkny

    Great story!

  46. Congrats on being freshly pressed. I love finding out the etymology of words. Recently, I looked up where ‘indictment’ came from. I’m saving up some money so I can invest in a nice Oxford dictionary since I don’t have access to one through school now that I’ve graduated. Interesting post! Thank you for sharing.

  47. Great post — I love your witty style.

  48. Sometimes I’d love to defenestrate some jerks… :)

    By the way, do you know where the word comes from? It seems it originated from a rebellion occurred in Prague in 1419, where 7 members of the public council were thrown out of the window.

    The most famous defenestration, however, took place in 1618 and started the 30 Years’ War.

  49. Ooh, etymology is fun! Have you ever read “The Professor and the Madman?” Great book about one of the biggest contributors to the OED. And now I want to threaten to defenestrate someone…

  50. wordpressreport

    Reblogged this.

  51. I love finding the roots of words/phrases. One of my favorites is the origin of the phrase ‘straight from the horse’s mouth': a horse racing term used to signify the highest authority of tips on which horse was going to win, as it came straight from the horse itself. Nice post!

  52. I’ve always admired English for its adaptability. It always makes me smile when I hear people worrying over the “integrity” of the English language, with fears that other languages spoken in schools or on television might somehow contaminate it. English has always been a tapestry of different languages, and its grammar is even more of a mess, but that makes it interesting and adaptable, which I think has made it the de facto global language. Also, I only knew defenestration from the Defenestration of Prague!

    • It’s amazing to me how many people have turned out to know the word “defenestration.” And the historical origin from Prague is interesting, too.

      When you have time, you might enjoy reading the book “The Story of English” by Robert MacNeil, Robert Macrum and William Cran. It’s a fascinating look at the language of English, how it grows and how it’s influenced. It’s also a documentary that was broadcast on BBC and PBS.

  53. Congratulations on making WordPress’s front page. I was just on my way to post about ‘octothorpe’, over at ‘lectorconstans’.

    I recently uncovered a pair of synonyms that should be antonyms (like ‘flammable’ and ‘inflammable’): habitable and inhabitable.

  54. Yay! Just went to see the freshly pressed and there you were!!!! Congratulations! Well deserved! :-) Keep up the great work!

  55. Thanks for the new Word of the Week: “defenestration”. I love that word! Will try to use it in casual conversation at the office tomorrow.

  56. Ooops. Hit return too soon. Origin of defenestration? I remembered it, though, as one of those words you know, but never get to use. It is used, now and again, in some medical procedures.

    The nice thing about English – with the largest vocabulary of any language – is that we’ve borrowed shamelessly from many other languages. Unlike the French, who have armed guards at the doors of the Academie.

    For extra points: find the word ‘defenestration’ (or its variants) in print (or online). Arthur C. Clarke used it in a short story title.

    PPS: The German word for window is “fenster”, apparently shamelessly borrowed from the Latin “fenestra”.

    • Jawohl! But I am mystified about how defenestration is used in some medical procedures, unless it’s to explain what happened to an accident victim. Please explain!

      • I hate it when they do that……

        I had it wrong – the medical term is ‘fenestration': “2. the surgical creation of a new opening in the labyrinth of the ear for restoration of hearing in otosclerosis.”

        Here’s a resource you might enjoy:

        An Extract from Pandora’s Wordbox

        “The rich and powerful often liked palaces FENESTRATED by many WINDOWS and ENTRIES. The rich often also liked to eat rich food – a cause for FENESTRATED arterial linings causing heart attacks.”

        Unfortunately, that’s a subscription site.

      • Okay, thanks for explaining. I was having visions of medical professionals tossing people out of windows…NOT that they would ever do such a thing. (Yikes!)

  57. Reblogged this on Drops Of Ink and commented:
    This was very interesting and cool.

  58. Haha defenestration — I knew what it meant too! I had an English teacher in middle school who decided to pick an “SAT word” every day for us to learn. We never got past defenestration because it was the first word he picked and it became a classroom joke for the rest of the year.

  59. The one thing I hate the most about the transformation of the English language is that more and more kids don’t know how to spell simple words! For one thing, “you” is both singular and plural depending on how it’s used. “Yous”, “you’s” and (most importantly) “youse” are not words! I saw an article the other day titled along the lines of “Youse has been added to the dictionary”, but when I read the article it actually talked about (other) Australian colloquial words that made it in. (Oxford Dictionary, if you’re wondering.) I think before we start adding more new and modern words to the dictionary, we should teach the ones that we already have!

    [end rant]

    I really liked the origin story about “hands down”. That WAS really interesting!

  60. Nice post. Congrats on Freshly Pressed. :)

  61. I went to see who was freshly pressed today and here you are!!! Congratulations!!!! Very deserved!

  62. I am in love with this. ♥

  63. I read this instead of watching my daughter’s birth. You do the math.

  64. Being relatively new to WordPress, I was gloppened to find an etymology blog, Great piece! I didn’t know what defenestration was until I read your post, but I do now, so now I’ll have to use it, Thanks! ;)

  65. I just learned “circumbendibus” yesterday…what a word! Lovely post!

  66. One of the advantages of speaking a Neo-Latin language like Italian (which, incidentally, is also called a “Romance language”, although it has nothing to do with Latin lovers) is that you can guess the meaning of a word like “defenestration” at first sight — or first hearing, if you prefer.

    Actually, most words that sound “wacky” to a native speaker of English look perfectly natural to me: stuff like “scrutiny”, “obnubilate”, “coeval”, “cinereous”, “denigrate”, “verbose”, and such.

    And, well, “abstruse” or “eccentric”, to my ear, sound much less wacky than “wacky”. ;-)

  67. Gotta love a post expounding word definitions. Clearly deserves the Freshly Pressed.

    Happy Pages,
    CricketMuse

  68. Love your blog. Congrats on Freshly Pressed, what an achievement.

    I love the English language and the way it is evolving. Shakespeare probably wouldn’t be able to understand a word of it these days.

    Cheers, Judy :)

  69. Joe Labriola

    Ah, few activities as entertaining as etymology. So “quaint”.

  70. Enjoyed your post here. You always have good stuff.

    I recently rescued a really large volume from the library’s recycle bins. It was a compendium of Shakespeare’s language. Somebody’s thesis I should imagine. Someday I’m going to read it. I may learn some of the English language that isn’t being used any more. Wouldn’t that be fun to use now…. :)

    Language is culture. The English adopted many words from everyone else’s language, and many of their mannerisms as well.

    America went one better and adapted the existing language to the many immigrants entering at Ellis Island, to provide a quicker means for everyone to get up and running with it. Funny, now if you use a word that isn’t a part of that 2,000 most commonly used English words in front of a person from NY, NY, you are put down as being from the country….go figure.

    Thanks for liking my post about culture and poetry.

  71. Some words seem impossible to use if you can’t find anyone using it in a casual sentence with the proper connotation. The dictionary denotation is often useless unless you want to run full speed for a faux pas skip-and-jump into the punch bowl. I only see quotations from William F. Buckley Jr. for some words. But I let my High Priestess write two poems using the words: Extravasate and extravasation.

  72. This is a good article, you should continue this subject in your posts.

    With information like this, not only did you educate me but also help me be more productive at work by adding a new column next to people’s names entitled ‘defenestration?’ with Y or N instead of a long sentence as a header. (Don’t worry, it is only the thought not the actual act.)

    In addition, there was a supporting cast comic book character called The Defenestrator who would carry a window around so he can throw villains through.

  73. Personally, I like the word hobnobbing – to be on friendly terms with/to share a drink with.
    Interesting post.

  74. As a writer, I can thank the way our world is changing. It is easier and more acceptable to write without having all those starchy rules. I love the direction our language is taking.

    Val

  75. Obscurity of some words is subjective. Some words might be obscure to some people, but not to others, depending on where they live, the language they speak, mostly. Interesting post!

  76. I am British — and as a schoolgirl, we had to study the various ‘borrowings’ of words from other languages — to run ‘amok’, to go ‘berserk’, from Hindu we borrowed lots of words (think British Raj) it gave us khaki, bungalow, pyjamas, shampoo, jodhpurs.

    Hundreds of years earlier, following the Norman conquest we got umpteen words and one of the strands that interested me is that the names of farm animals were/are always in Anglo-Saxon eg Cow/Ox, Sheep, but once they turn into meat we used adapted Norman French words e.g. beef, mutton etc! (Les Francais love their food!!).

    I think my favourite obscure English word is ‘petrichor’ which means the smell of rain hitting dry ground. We all know what that smells like – isn’t it wonderful that there is a word for it!

  77. Cindy Wu

    Very interesting. I like your activities. I also like to know the origins of words. I have a suggestion that if you don’t like mosquito, then you can say it “MOSHA”. (This word comes from Bangladesh.)

  78. I am a first-time blogger. I came across your post in freshly pressed and was very impressed with your articles. Congrats!!! :)

  79. Great post! I look forward to more (grammatically correct) wackiness! Perhaps I should blog on my cat’s recent adventure in autodefenestration…

    Congrats on being Pressed Freshly!

    Dustin

  80. I’ve always wondered about “hands down” but then I wonder about a lot of things. : ) Great blog!

    • Blogs: Fun
      Blog writers: More fun
      Getting to share info with other like-minded people: Priceless!

    • Actually no jockey would ever let go of the reins. That would be suicide. (I used to gallop racehorses for a living.) “Hands down” just means the jockey would let his/her hands rest quietly on the horse’s neck (reins still quite firmly in his/her fists!) and stop driving quite so actively to the finish line. You’re essentially giving the horse peace to coast to the finish that way.

  81. It probably is going to be entertaining. But what about words like “roflcopter”, “lol”, “omg”, “kawaii desu”, “trollface”, and the rest of those? Do they sound entertaining? =P

    • I believe they could be, once they pass into general acceptance. Some of the words you list I’ve heard, while others I had to look up (kawaii desu stumped me).

      • “Look at this kitty, it’s so kawaii” – typical expression by anime/manga geeks. Even Japanese people hate that word already.

        They don’t need to pass into general acceptance. They already are accepted by this generation. All it takes is a few years for kids to grow up and introduce them to official dictionaries.

        They will start as colloquial/slang words, but … who knows, one day “lol” may be the default response to most jokes, just as now “hey” (hei, hej) is a default greeting.

      • To my mind, words are rather like clothing fashions. Somebody, somewhere creates a new word (“meme”, for example), it catches on in popularity and starts spreading. If the word is good enough, it’s spread even further through the Internet, TV and so on. And then at its height of achievement, it enters the dictionary and is recorded forever.

  82. Omar Westerberg

    Reblogged this.

  83. bo

    Actually, my favorite part about defenestration is this note in the O.E.D.:

    “Defenestration of Prague: the action of the Bohemian insurgents who, on the 21st of May 1618, broke up a meeting of Imperial commissioners and deputies of the States, held in the castle of the Hradshin, and threw two of the commissioners and their secretary out of the window; this formed the prelude to the Thirty Years’ War.”

    I love the visual of a bunch of commissioners getting tossed out of any and all available windows.

    I also like to refer to a building or a house with lots of windows as ‘well-fenestrated.’ It’s such a great word.

  84. kushal30

    Yes…English is a living language…it keeps up with changing times.

  85. I would think English has to be one of the more difficult languages for a non-native speaker to learn due to the numerous irregularities and the word origins coming from so many other different languages. Spanish, for instance, could be learned phonetically. English, not so much. At least we don’t have to deal with the accents and genders though, right? Great post!

  86. So, the best place to try defenestrating somebody is from a well-fenestrated building.

  87. There are few things I find more interesting (and know too little about) than etymology. Thanks so much for this post! I learned. I laughed. I loved. :)

  88. Ahhh…the joys of the English language. It is so much fun!! Learning the English language is a never-ending adventure!

  89. N

    Defenestration…haha =) Good one .. I so do not want to be defenestrated.

  90. [ Smiles ] I LOVE your unique insight.

  91. Being June

    Love this! You should host challenges in which you choose a handful of obscure words and your readers must try to assemble them into a sentence…you judge the best (read: most hysterical) attempt. Congrats on the Freshly Pressed!

  92. I love word combos — I wish I could get points for the stand-up jokes I make with them, haha.

    My favorite is that I am a mix between a beagle and pelican so that makes me a peagle. ;)

  93. I’m proud of myself…I knew what defenestration means! :D LOL! English is certainly a mixed bag.

  94. Love it! My dad was a semantics nut and taught his family the love of words and vocal sounds. He said, “Once you learn the rules, you can bastardize any word.” Puns ran rampant in our family. Thanks for the fun reminder.

  95. Thanks for introducing me to a new word. That one’s getting a Tweet! I’d like to give a nod to “bromance.” Not sure if it’s been made official yet, but it’s certainly an official colloquialism.

    • I agree. I’ve seen “bromance” pop up quite a bit in movie reviews. I guess a new word really becomes official when it’s used every day and most people understand what it means.

  96. My mom is a word lover (is there a word for that?) and I’m sure she’d love this post. She’s my dictionary. Whenever I wonder what something means, I’ll ask her before googling it. I’ll have to see what she knows about defenestration… :)

  97. This made me laugh! Defenestration is my boyfriend’s favourite word. He keeps trying to use it in sentences.

  98. Was surfing the net and found a new word today “samizdat” … what do you say?

  99. Defenestration is one of my favorite words! And there is hardly ever a situation where I can use it…Safety screens on windows ruin all my fun…

    Another new/weird word is mockumentary. I learned it after being duped by a program on Animal Planet…

  100. Defenestration has always been one of my favorite words. It’s just…so pointless, really. Great post!

  101. Interesting! Will definitely work this into a conversation…

  102. flutterberry

    Informative post! Never knew ‘noodle’ was a German word. LOL.

  103. English is the only truly global language. If you know it, you can travel the world and make yourself understood almost anywhere. And also the manner in which in each country adapts it to suit their local dialects is fantastic. I come from Sri Lanka and being a former British colony, we have a natural affinity to English but now what many use is called Singlish which is a mix between the local language and English.

  104. BTW, there was this old British comedy called Mind Your Language which had a classroom full of people from different countries coming to learn English in Britain. The students were stereotypical but it’s a great comedy which shows the general confusion that arises when a ‘foreigner’ tries to learn English.

    • I’m always in awe of people from other countries who come here to the U.S. and learn English as well as they do. It’s not the easiest language to learn and I applaud anybody who tries. But the best way to learn a language — any language — is to immerse yourself in an environment where that language is used 24/7. Or if that’s not possible, there’s always Meetup groups. ;-)

  105. One of my acquaintances here in Japan returned some glitter pens to Costco. They were clearly labeled “washable,” but she claimed they were defective because the glitter had washed off….What a word means isn’t always the sum of its parts, I guess, especially to non-native speakers. Costco gave her the money back, btw.

  106. Interesting post — I love these nuggets of knowledge that I stumble upon! Thank you for posting. You have a new fan. :D

  107. Meredith

    Didn’t look up the actual root of the word advocate, but in Swedish, the word advocat means lawyer. And in English, you might even say a lawyer advocates for you. (Yes, I did think that was hilarious at the time.) Since Swedish is also a Germanic language, it may all originate from German. Or Latin. Maybe Finnish for all I know, like I said, I didn’t check. It was just a fun realization for me the other day, and I was reminded of it now. Fun post. :)

    • Thanks for the compliment, Meredith. And thanks also for sharing your info with all of us.

    • At my best guess, advocate has to be made up of ad (Latin preposition meaning through) + vocare (or similar verb of origin, also the origin of such terms as voice, vocal, vocalise, etc.)

      All I can do off the top of my head, 25 years later, after a year of Latin at school at 12. ;-)

      Ta-ta!

    • “Lawyer” is “der Advokat” in German (I left off the “das” in “das Fenster” last time – 2 points off), and “abogado” in Spanish.

      Oddly enough, “lawyer” in British English is “solicitor”, while “solicitor” in American English is “salesman”.

      Then there’s “attorney”. To make things unclearer, an attorney is usually “attorney at law”…Why “at law”? Are there people who are attorneys at something else?

      • Yes, actually. I looked up this one. In the old days of English law, according to one source I found, there were two different courts. One was the court of equity and the other was the court of law. So a lawyer could be an attorney at equity or an attorney at law. Now, the two courts have merged into one and using the phrase “at law” is just a holdover from the days of the two-court system.

  108. Great post! I knew defenestration. :) We had a few of those in our history LOL and believe me, neither of the people who were tossed out liked it that much. ;)

    Renny

  109. I recently learned the origin of “cost you an arm and a leg” while touring the Capital in D.C. Seems that painters would charge more for limbs than just for a head painting, so if you wanted a full body portrait, it would cost you for those arms and legs.

  110. I love this post. I constantly wonder where words and phrases originate. I either leave a note on my phone, or google on the spot to satisfy my thought immediately. As far as picking up on “proper” English, slang, or keeping up with the evolution of language, I would think it is the same in any language.

  111. Sam

    Congratulations on being freshly pressed.

  112. Funny enough (wow and great and congrats btw), the term ‘defenestrate’ made its way into English unchanged from its original meaning. It exists in Spanish (defenestrar, most likely through late Latin, or Italian or French), of which I am a native speaker; and although it has retained its meaning of tossing sb out of a window as the first dictionary definition, its ‘modern’ meanings are:

    a) [second official Real Academia Española dictionary meaning] “To dismiss someone from a post, position or situation”;

    b) [popular, though now slightly dated and/or rather geeky use in at least Argentina] “Repudiate, reject; disparage publicly and forcefully.” (or so)

    As a teacher of languages (EFL by profession, occasionally Spanish by geographical chance, since I am currently living in Brazil) (where Portuguese is spoken, just in case hehe), I have always been in dutiful and loving touch with words, their meaning, uses and origins. And I am just a tad geekish, let’s face it. Sadly, though, I am frequently mocked and I might say sometimes even scorned at this. Here among my new friends, for instance, I tend to come up with what they consider wacky questions about words/expressions I hear and whose meaning barely guess or simply ignore. Even in Spanish, as I insist on coming up with the odd term or phrase, especially when I write, my friends and especially my partner will throw their hands up in horror [how can anyone do that, I wonder?] and criticise me tongue-in-cheek (or so I like to think).

    Enough said, and shared. Congratulations again, thanks for the enlightenment and keep it up!

    Apropos of nothing, anyone in the mood for tales and a few poems in English and Spanish is welcome to have a browse at avadapalabra.wordpress.com.

    Cheers!

  113. I’m curious to see where it goes as well…let’s just hope it doesn’t get defenestrated.

  114. Congrats again on being FPed! I’ve been busy, so somewhere along the line, I missed this one of yours! Anyone that ever had the Poke Me app on Facebook should know what defenestrate means, because that was one of the things you could do to your friends. A silly app that I haven’t seen or used in years. Was that the dark ages of FB? But I still think it sounds like something to do with a bodily function.

    You are very right, I think the Caribbean should take mosquitoes back. Or would they stop biting if they had a nicer name? Words are always fun. Unless you’re getting beaten at Scrabble online. Then I yell at my friend and ask him if he’s cheating. : )

    Soak up the applause, you deserve it!

  115. Ann

    I enjoyed this post. I loved English and i am always interested in learning new words and their meanings. It’s fun and at the same time, informative too!

  116. English has many idioms, most of which must surely confuse first-time learners. (I suppose other languages must also have them.

    avadapalabra: Any from Portugese?

    English: “It’s raining cats and dogs.”

    “I know – I just stepped in a poodle.”

  117. I love the fact that GINORMOUS is actually in the dictionary. :)

    • Me too. Such a great word, isn’t it? I also love the word “discombobulate”. There’s something about that word that makes me crack up in laughter every time.

      • Also “humongous” and “nugatory” (both of which came from my years in aerospace, and both of which are regularly challenged every time I use them).

        “Nugatory” was a label on a box of unidentified stuff that had been sitting around the office for years. Everybody thought it meant “essential” so they didn’t throw it out.

      • It makes me wonder if the person who wrote “nugatory” on the box was playing a literary joke, or if he/she really didn’t want that stuff thrown out.

  118. I love learning where popular phrases come from. Thanks for teaching me another one!

  119. Did I tell you I actually came across “defenestration” in a recent book? Yeah, he fell out of the window. Makes sense. Words are so fun. Verisimilitude is one of my faves.
    Blue Skies,
    CricketMuse

  120. I could look up new words all day and never get bored. I have this book called “Endangered Words” that succeeds to remain a favorite of mine. And I love that the English language carries the potential for growth; however, the day “bootylicious” was added to Webster’s inveterate anthology, I cringed a little.

    ~ Cara

    • I’d cringe too. I think there are better ways to describe someone’s beauty.

      • Sad though it may seem, we must remember one man’s meat is another man’s poison. Lest we forget, it is America’s Powers that Be in the music industry/showbiz that have pushed bootylicious as well as countless other words (and concepts, alas!) into our everyday life and our children’s.

        Not all is lost, though! Just keep showing everyone we can the precious power of words, the diversity and richness in every language (mine being Spanish, btw, though I work mostly in English and live in Portugal hehe).

      • Interesting viewpoint. Thanks for stopping by, Avadapalabra!

  121. The phrase “I’m ’bout to defenestrate ya” is pretty intimidating.

  122. lectorconstans

    “…one man’s meat is another man’s poison.” Or poisson.

    Cara Olsen: “Endangered Words” – wonderful! I looked for that on Amazon. It’s on my “to get” list.

    Here’s another you might like:

    Mrs. Byrne’s Dictionsry of Unusual, Obscure and Preposterous Words, by Josefa Heifitz (yes, his daughter).

    Webster may say it’s a word, but that doesn’t make it so. So there.

  123. You should read Mother Tongue by Bill Bryson. :)

  124. I’m starting a blog entry on “more-or-less obscure words” (I’m lobbying for a dictionary that only has the words we really need to look up). I picked a random page in Webster’s Unabridged (somewhere in the “ko…..). Of about 70 words so far, 68 of them are of foreign origin (mostly Indian and African); one is of Greek (it’s a medical term).

    I suppose Scrabble players would delight in these, but not one of them would anybody use more than once in a lifetime.

    Exception: “kohl” (dark powder, used mainly in India, in makeup, for eye shadow).

    Aside: An essay noted that hardly anybody ever “looks up a word”. He argues that we learn words from context, gradually refining our understanding through time. (The essay is “Why Teachers Make Students Hate Reading” (in a “Norton Reader” – 1000 pages of things for English students to read).

    I almost never had to go to a dictionary until I started reading William F. Buckley.

    • I have learned a lot of words from context. These days, when I’m reading something online and come across an unfamiliar word, I have the luxury of looking it up online.

      Buckley’s Blackford Oakes is quite the character, isn’t he? I love “The Story of Henri Tod”.

  125. I believe knowing the origin of the words are fun. Interesting. I wish to know more.

  126. English is like a living creature with a life of its own. It never ceases to change. I enjoyed your blog post and confirmed my hypothesis.

  127. Hands down, Eagle-Eye . . . you are the winner.

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