10 Everyday Words With Unexpected Origins

10 Everyday Words With Unexpected Origins

With 171,476 words, the English language is surely a difficult one. While most of us use it everyday to communicate with each other, there are instances where a specific word gets stuck in our head. Then, we begin to wonder how or where on Earth it originated from. If we take a look back through history, you won’t believe how far some words have come. Etymology, or the study of the origin of words, can prove to be quite boring. However, the 10 words that we have collected have unexpected origins that are sure to catch your interest. So, without further ado, here are 10 everyday words with their highly unusual origins.




1. Mortgage

Derived from Old French and Latin to literally mean ‘destructive pledge’.

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Image: Pixabay

Mortgage is one of those words that gives us a mini heart attack. The word comes from Old French and Latin to literally translates to ‘destructive pledge’. While owning a house is a good thing, being in debt is not. According to a MarketWatch report, an astounding half of Americans have trouble affording their housing. A survey conducted by “How Housing Matters” shows that 50% of Americans have used their credit cards or took second jobs in the past three years, in order to afford housing.

From the French words mort (meaning “deceased”) and gaige (meaning “pledge”), a mort gaige was a transfer of ownership of physical property as security for a loan. While a pledge allows a person to keep ownership of the property and only transfer possession, mortgage really doesn’t work like that. In the case of mortgage, the person is allowed to retain possession of it, but ownership is transferred to the bank or third party offering the money in exchange. So basically, mortgage is exactly what is sounds like. (source)

2. Bankrupt

Derived from the Italian word banca rotta, which translates to “broken bench”.

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Image: Pixabay

The word “bankrupt” comes from Italian banca rotta, which translates to “broken bench”. Before the modern banking systems and establishments existed, money lenders worked from benches or tables. They would set up a bench or table wherever they could and lend money with high interest rates. However, unlike today, there was no guarantee that one would see a return on his investment, or any return on his investment at all. So, when a lender ran out of money, his bench or table would be broken, and he would no longer be able to deal with money. Hence, the word banca rotta came into existence.

The French have a similar word, banqueroute. By the 1500’s, the word found its way into the English language and people started using it as a figure of speech, as well as a literal definition to define some of their lives. (source)

3. Boycott

The word came into existence because of a dispute between a man named Boycott and the Irish Land League in 1880.

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Image: Wikimedia

While many words accidentally came into existence, the word “boycott” was no accident. Captain Charles Boycott was a British Army veteran who worked as a landlord’s agent. His duty was to walk around and collect rent from tenant farmers on an estate in northwest Ireland. During the late 1800’s, many British landlords were exploiting Irish tenant farmers and this wasn’t appreciated by those who were struggling to survive. As the story goes, one day, the tenants where Boycott worked, demanded a reduction in their rents.

When Boycott heard of the demands, he refused the request and even went on to evict those who made the demands. While many of those who were evicted wanted justice, the Irish Land League advised them to approach the situation in a different manner; by refusing to do business with him at all. The approach was extremely effective since Boycott had trouble finding farmers to harvest his crops. By the early 1900’s, the word spread around the world and newspapers such as the New York Times began using it. (source)




4. Ostracize

The word ostracize was derived from the ancient practice of “ostracism“, which was used by government officials to literally ban someone from Athens for a period of ten years.

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Image: Picryl

Today, ostracizing someone means to exclude them from a society or group. The Athenian Democracy that developed around the sixth century BC, was known for its strange customs. One such custom was “ostracism“, which was used by Athenian citizens to decide a person’s fate. For instance, if certain people were deemed to have bad qualities or simply did not fit in with the Athenian ways, then as many as 6,000 citizens would write votes in “ostraka”, which are pottery shards. The votes would then be counted and the person with the most votes was given ten days to leave.

Once they left, the ostracized person could not return to Athens for a period of 10 years. If they did try to return, they would face severe punishment, but after the 10 year period was over, their possessions and status was returned; as if nothing had happened. (source)

5. Yacht

Derived from the word “jachtschepen”, which was a small, light ship used primarily for chasing down pirate ships.

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Image: Pexels

The word yacht is derived from the Dutch word “jacht”, which means “hunt”. Furthermore, “jachtschepen” was the name for narrow, light and very fast sailing boats that the Dutchmen used for intercepting larger and slower boats and ships; especially pirate ships. When Charles II reigned as the king of England, Scotland and Ireland from 1649 until his deposition in 1651, a jachtschepen was gifted. During his free time, His Majesty used the hunting boat not to intercept pirates, but to have fun. That is how the word “jacht” eventually became “yacht”, a term used to describe vessels/boats made for pleasure. (source)




6. Quarantine

Originated during the mid-1300’s during the Great Plague, from the Italian word quarantina giorni, which literally refers to the 40 days a ship was forced to wait out of port to make sure it was free of infection.

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Image: New York Public Library

The word “quarantine” dates back to the late medieval Plague. During the 14th century, the Great Plague was ravaging through Europe. In an effort to protect coastal cities from plague epidemics, ships that arrived in Venice from infected ports were required to sit at anchor for 40 days before they could dock. The practice was termed quarantine, which was derived from the Italian words quaranta giorni, which means 40 days. The practice was later adopted by countries all over the world to prevent certain illnesses from spreading throughout civilization. (source)

7. Bluetooth

The wireless technology that revolutionized the cell phone is actually named after the King of Denmark and Norway, Harald Bluetooth.

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Image: Wikipedia/Pixabay

Bluetooth technology allows short range wireless communications between different devices, allowing data to be transferred from one point to another with ease. The name for the technology was taken from the nickname of a Viking king who ruled during the 10th century and is credited with originally uniting Scandinavia.

Like many medieval rulers, he also had a nickname: blátǫnn in Old Norse or Blåtand in Danish; which meant Bluetooth. In 1996, when Intel, Ericsson, Nokia, and later IBM decided to form a consortium, they were struggling to find a unique name for the short range wireless technology. Jim Kardach, an Intel engineer, was out with his friend Sven Mattisson, an Ericsson engineer, when they two were discussing their inventions that were uniquely similar. During that time, Mattisson had just read a book called The Longships by Frans G. Bengtsson. The book explains the travels of Danish warriors under the reign of King Harald “Bluetooth” Gormsson.

After finding more about Harald Bluetooth, Mattisson realized that like the king, Bluetooth technology does the same; unites people. For the logo, the marketing team turned towards Bluetooth’s Nordic origins. The iconic Bluetooth logo is actually a combination—officially known as a bind rune—of King Bluetooth’s initials in Scandinavian runes: ᚼ and ᛒ. When you join the initials, it forms the familiar Bluetooth logo. (source)




8. Sideburns

Ambrose Burnside, a Civil War general as well as a governor and U.S. senator, is known for popularizing sideburns and probably the origin of the word ‘sideburns’.

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Image: Library of Congress

Ambrose Burnside had an impressive career in both politics and the army. While he managed to garner many achievements throughout his life, it’s not his achievements he’s best known for. Instead, he’s known for popularization of the facial hair style called ‘sideburns’. While many men before him had been wearing sideburns, Ambrose Burnside certainly made it popular. At a young age, Burnside was proud of his hairstyle.

As the story goes, while Burnside was a young cadet, a fresh cadet had arrived at West Point. He had long hair and a beard, so Burnside, who was a prankster, decided to have some fun. Instead of taking him to a real barber, Burnside took him back to his dorm and shaved it half way; to resemble himself. Since then, ‘sideburns’ have been extremely popular and Burnside is credited with providing the style the legacy it has today. (source)

9. Hazard

Today, hazard means danger or risk. The word actually originated from an old English dice game that was known to raise tensions between players.

Hazard, life, dice, game, facts, people, weird, words
Image: Met Museum

During the 14th century, Hazard was a popular dice game. The game of chance was extremely popular in France where a person would roll a dice and onlookers would place a series of bets. However, the game was extremely complicated with complicated rules, making it fairly easy for the rollers to walk away with the winnings. The official rule makes no sense:

“The caster begins by throwing the dice to determine the Main Point. This must be a score between 5 and 9. Now the caster throws the dice again. If the score is the same as the Main Point, this is known as a nick and the caster wins. If a 2 or 3 was rolled, that’s an out and the caster loses. 11 and 12 are also outs, except in certain cases: a roll of 11 after a Main Point of 7 is a nick, and so is a roll of 12 after a Main Point of 6 or 8.”

As time went by, the game’s addictive nature caused many to associate other games with similar nature as ‘hazard’. A few hundred years later, the word was used to associate any type of risk or danger. (source)

10. Ritzy

The word ritzy is used to describe something stylish or of great value. The word is named after César Ritz, builder of fine hotels in all the Western world’s biggest cities including the Hôtel Ritz in Paris.

César Ritz, ritzy, words, life, people, facts, history
Image: Wikimedia

The word ‘ritzy’, comes from the hotel, which was named after Cesar Ritz. Cesar Ritz was a builder of fine hotels in all the Western world’s biggest cities in the late 19th and early 20th century. He started his career as a waiter and after five years, garnered enough confidence to succeed in life. One step at a time, Ritz was achieving his goals by becoming a hotel manager and an owner himself. The successful businessman went on to start several hotels with the code, “The customer is always right”, and later formed the Hôtel Ritz of Paris. By 1908, the word ‘ritzy’ was used as a comparison to the exquisite food served at the hotels. (source)




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