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12 English words with strange origins

The English language is a curious mixture of words from around the world, forged over millennia of invasions, wars, colonial expansions, and scientific and cultural developments.

Of an estimated 750,000 words, we have already determined the most beautiful, the funniest and the strangest, but what words in English have the strangest origins?

1. Clue

Technically, the English speakers stole this word from the Greek gods. It is a variant of the word «clew», which refers to Greek mythology. When the Minotaur, a monster with the body of a man and the head of a bull, locked the mythological king Theseus in a labyrinth, it is said that Theseus escaped thanks to the thread of a ball or «clew». He marked the path with the thread to use it if it was lost and thus be able to return.

Therefore, a «clew» ended up meaning something that guides your way and, later, the meaning acquired a broader meaning: a guide to discovering the truth.

2. Hooligan

We have many words in English for the rioters in English: ruffian, thug, hoodlum, yob, chav, lout … The list is endless. Each word has its nuances in terms of meaning, but often it also provides a clue to the region of the United Kingdom from which the speaker comes.

But if they call you hooligan, the origin is less clear. According to the Oxford dictionary of English etymology, this noun comes from the surname of an Irish family, the Houlihan, mentioned in an old song from the 1890s. Another theory is that during the uprising of the Jacobites in 1745, an English commander misheard the Scottish Gaelic word meanbh-Schuiling, which means mosquito, and he invented the word hooligan to express his frustration with these annoying insects. Later he ended up using the word to describe anything or person that was as irritating as mosquitoes.

3. Nice

Teachers in English-speaking countries are often desperate because of the excessive use their students make of the adjective nice in descriptive writing. And it turns out that now they have even more reasons to ban the word in the classroom: the term was negative in its origins, it meant «ignorant» or «foolish».

Linguists have different theories about the origin of this word. It may have developed from the old French variant of the word «nice» at the end of the thirteenth century, or from the Latin «genius». It is believed that little by little it became something positive because, once it was introduced in the English language, it was often used to describe a person who was too smartly dressed. Later, the sense was confused and began to be used to define something refined or a «well-dressed» person.

4. Shampoo

Now you will have even more reasons to enjoy the shower. This word, which derives from the Sanskrit root chapati (चपति), was used to describe any type of pressure, massage or relief. In 1860 it began to be used with the sense of «washing the hair», and it was only in the 50s when it began to be used also with the meaning of washing carpets and other materials.

5. Nightmare

It is quite clear where the first part of the word nightmare comes from. But where does the «mare» part come from? The » mare » part refers to a female elf that sits on you, suffocates you while you sleep, entangles her hair around you and tries to induce bad thoughts … Pretty frightening, is not it?

6. Sandwich

Sandwiches have this (strange) name for the fourth Earl of Sandwich, an eighteenth-century English politician, and nobleman.

The circumstances of Lord Sandwich’s alleged invention of the sandwich are the subject of heated debate among linguists. Some believe that he put the food between two pieces of bread so as not to have to leave his beloved table and that his playmates began to ask the servants «the same as Sandwich» and, later, they simply asked for «a sandwich » Others (who perhaps are more respectful of Lord Sandwich’s work) believe that he only ate in this way so as not to have to move from his desk in order to fulfill his political commitments.

7. Shambles

The origin of the word shambles is chaos. Which is ironic, because shambles means «real chaos.» It is not uncommon to hear English speakers complain that their life «is a shambles».

It is said that the term derives from the Latin word scamillus, which means «small stool or bank». But at the same time that the term scamillus was used, the word shambles was also used to refer to a bench or stool. We do not know why the two terms were used, but at some point, the meaning of scamillus became more specific to distinguish it from the other; he was referring only to a stool where something is sold. Some years later, the meaning of scamillus was further refined and began to be used to describe a stool (or stall) where meat is sold. Afterward, it meant the meat market. Later, it meant slaughterhouse. And finally, at some point, the word » shambles» was used to make clever word games.

8. Tattoo
The word tattoo derives from the word Polynesia tatau, which means «a mark made on the skin». The term was developed from the word Samoan tattoo, which means «to strike».

Let it be known, he first appeared in the English language in 1786 in the journal Endeavor of Captain James Cook, where he described the tattoo tradition among the people he met during his trip to Polynesia. The practice of tattooing existed in England before this time, but before we borrowed the word of Polynesia, this practice was called a form of «painting.» When in 1691 they took a native Indonesian from New Guinea as a slave to the United Kingdom, people referred to him as the «painted prince» because of the marks he had on his body.

9. Ketchup
Maybe this famous tomato sauce that we put in our French fries would not have the flavor it has today. There are many theories about the origin of the term, but it is possible that the first reference to it was already made in the seventeenth century when the Chinese used the term kôe-cheap (鮭 汁) to refer to a mixture of pickled fish and spices. And the first record of the word ketchup in the English language appears in a 1690 dictionary, where «catchup» is written.

10. Checkmate
It is said that the term chess checkmate (checkmate) comes from the Persian word shāh māt (شاه مات), which can be translated as «the king is helpless». However, since chess traveled from the Arab world to Europe, and the Arabic word meaning «dead» is māta (مات), it is also said to mean «the king is dead». Many oppose this second version of the etymology of the term because the king, or the shāh, does not die in chess, he is simply forced into a position from which he can not escape.

11. Robot
Shakespeare was not the only writer who introduced new words in the English language. The English word robot comes from the Czech word robota, which means «forced labor». The word that was introduced in the 20s by the writer Karel Čapek in his science fiction work RUR (Rossum’s Universal Robots), which explores the idea of ​​manufacturing synthetic people. Curiously, the writer later revealed that the word had not been invented by him, but by his brother, also a writer but better known for his work as a painter.

12. Barbecue
The term barbecue comes from the Caribbean word barbacoa, which means «set of sticks». Makes sense. The interesting thing is that the first registered use of barbecue in the English language was more like a verb, not a noun. While it appeared for the first time as the noun barbecued in 1648 in the phrase «the Indians instead of salt doe barbecued or dry and smoked fish», in 1661 it appeared as barbecue in the phrase «some are slain, And their flesh forthwith Barbacu’d and eat » . This should put an end to the debates about whether the word barbecue can be used as a verb.