August 19, 2018

Top 10 accidental etymologies

Top 10 accidental etymologies

We did unexpected etymologies a few years ago, but it is time for another list of words whose present meanings have strayed far from their origins, because Paul Anthony Jones’s wonderful The Accidental Dictionary (above) was published on Thursday, from which some of these are taken.

1. Alcohol. Originally eyeliner, kohl. Al-kohl, “the” black powder in Arabic, came to mean any substance obtained by sublimation, then any concentrated liquid, then “alcohol of wine” came to mean any organic compound whose molecule contains one or more hydroxyl groups attached to a carbon atom.

2. Curry favour. Originated from currying Fauvel, combing or grooming a horse of that name in a medieval French story. Fauvel rose to great power in the royal household and people who wanted something from the king tried to ingratiate themselves with him.

3. Eavesdrop. An eavesdropper in late Middle English was “a person who listens from under the eaves”, from eavesdrop, “the ground on to which water drips from the eaves”.

4. Grin. Originally meant snarl, or to bare teeth, then a false smile, as in “grin and bear it”.  Read more 

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