Top 10 Interesting Word Origins

Its funny how we use certain words everyday, but never know exactly where that word came from.  Most words have fascinating origins, so it was impossible to choose only 10.  If you have a word origin you think is interesting and would like me to feature in a future sequel to this list, let me know in the comments.

#10. Addict

   In ancient Rome, soldiers who performed well in battle were awarded slaves, known as addicts (the Latin word for slave).  This word came to refer to a person who was a slave to anyone, or anything.  Eventually, the word formed other words, such as addicted and addiction.


#9. Buck

   Buck is an American slang term for dollar.  On the American frontier, deerskins were used as units of commerce.  They were referred to as buckskin, which became shortened to a buck.  The term actually dates all the way back to 1748.  Buck then became transferred to the newer means of commerce, dollars.


#8. Avocado Pear

   The Nahuatl language, spoken by several South American tribes (including the Aztecs), used the word “āhuacatl”, meaning testicle to refer to the green fruit, because of its appearance.  This word became “aguacate” in Spanish, and eventually “avocado” in English.  Pear was later added because of the fruit’s shape, and to separate the fruit from the tree it flowers from.


#7. Nightmare

   The night part of the word makes perfect sense, but bad dreams usually have nothing to do with horses, so where does mare come from?  In Old English, “mare” is a word meaning a demon that suffocates one in their sleep.  Bad dreams often made people feel like they were being suffocated in their sleep, so mare was attached to night to form the modern word.


#6. Dunce

   John Dons Scotus, was a medieval scholar who wrote on Catholic theology, grammar, logic, metaphysics, and a variety of other topics.  His works were so popular than his followers became know as “duns.”  However, when the Renaissance occurred, his work was found to be outdated.  His followers still stubbornly held on to their beliefs, and were mockingly referred to as “duns”, which in time became dunce.


#5. Quarantine

   “Quarante” is the French word for forty, and the suffix –ine, is like the English suffix –ish, meaning roughly, or around.  Quarantine means “roughly forty.” The word comes from when ships arrived at a French port with somebody on board who had a disease.  The ship would be required to wait roughly forty days before they could come ashore, to make sure the disease did not spread throughout France.


#4. Silhouette

   The word silhouette comes from the French finance minister Etienne de Silhouette, who imposed harsh sanctions on the citizens in 1759.  The term “à la Silhouette” was used to refer to art that was perceived as cheap, to mock de Silhouette, who practiced art as a hobby.  Shadows cut from black paper were popular at the time, and these were seen as being cheap, so they were referred to as silhouettes, which stuck.


#3. Soccer

   Even though soccer is mainly an American term to refer to the sport, it originated the other side of the Atlantic.  The Football Association was formed in 1863, and still operates to this day.  The name football was used to distinguish the sport from rugby, another sport forming at the same time.  Association Football thus became the word to describe the sport, although “socca” became used as a slang term deriving from the middle of “association.”  The word soon formed into soccer, and is still used in the US, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.


#2. Slave

   Slavonia was an area in Europe that was conquered by Rome.  All of the area’s citizens were taken to work for the Romans, and were known as “Slavs”, because of their origin.  Eventually, the word became “slaves”, and came to represent somebody who is forced to work for another person, without pay.  Today, Slavonia is a region in Croatia, made up of five counties.


#1. Berserk

Fierce Norse warriors were referred to as “berserkrs,” a term coming from the Old Icelandic words for bear, “ber”, and shirt, “serkr”.  These warriors would wear shirts made of bear fur into battle, believing it made them invincible.  Thus, the word berserk was formed, which is most often used in the phrase, “to go berserk”, meaning a person becomes so violently angry that there is no reasoning with them.