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15 cool origins of words we use everyday but have no idea where they come from

Language is the ultimate communication tool, however, the origins of some words will shock you.

15 cool origins of words we use everyday but have no idea where they come from
Cover Image Source: Getty Images/Patrick Sheandell O'Carroll (representative), Reddit/NorthDakotaExists

Language is the ultimate mode of communication among humans and it binds people from different cultures and backgrounds together. Hence, it is extremely interesting to learn about the origins of some common words that we use every day. Etymology is the study of the origin of words, including how they acquired their meanings and how they evolved over time. Some of these terms have been around for over 15,000 years.

The English language is not limited; rather, it is expanding at a rapid pace. According to the Global Language Monitor, some 5,400 new words are coined each year, of which only 1000 or so that are regarded to be in broad enough use make it into print. Yet, despite the fact that we use words without thinking about them every day, we know so little about them. So, to know more about some words that we take for granted, here are the interesting origins of 15 common words as listed in a viral Reddit thread:

1. Bear

Reddit user SolarDubstep said that "the word 'bear' in many languages in Europe (including English) just means 'brown thing.'" There used to be a proper word for bear, but pronouncing it was frowned upon since it was thought to attract a bear, who would then murder everyone. It was so forbidden that it was finally forgotten, and the euphemism (brown thing) was adopted as the term. 

2. Quintessential

You can break this word into "quint" and "essential," according to Reddit user Sedu. They added: "Quint as in 'five.' 'Essential' as in 'essence' or 'element.' To be quintessential is to be the fifth element of something. To be the thing's spirit."

3. Clue

Reddit user RobotInDisgust explained: "The word clue originates with the myth of Theseus, who used a ball of yarn to find his way back out of the minotaur's labyrinth. The middle English word for a ball of yarn was clew (or clewe); when the myth was popularized in England by Chaucer, people started using the word clew figuratively to mean a hint or guide to solving a problem." 

4. Dashboard

"The dashboard is a board on the front of a horse carriage meant to keep mud from kicking up on the passengers when the horse dashes. And over time it came to mean the front part of anything, even a computer interface is sometimes called a dashboard," explained Reddit user Catshit-Dogfart.

5. Panic

According to NorthDakotaExists, "The word 'panic' comes from the Greek god Pan who had a blood-curdling scream that induced panic in anyone who heard it." 

6. Oxymoron

The term "oxymoron" is, unsurprisingly, an oxymoron. Reddit user totentanz_ explained: "The oxy– part (the same as in words like oxygen, paroxysm and peroxide) comes from the Greek word for 'sharp' or 'acrid,' oxys. The –moron part (the same as in—well, moron) comes from the Greek word for 'dull', moros. So an oxymoron is literally a 'sharp-dull' turn of phrase."

7. Hands Down

Reddit user -eDgAR- shared: "The phrase 'hands down' comes from horseracing and refers to a jockey who is so far ahead that he can afford to drop his hands and loosen the reins (usually kept tight to encourage a horse to run) and still easily win."

8. Avocado

Our favorite fruit Avocado also has an interesting origin as explained by user Sebaren. "The word 'avocado' comes from the Aztec word for testicle. That's literally the only one I can think of right now," they wrote.

 9. Nightmare

Reddit user theonlydidymus explained that "the 'mare' part of the word 'nightmare' comes from Germanic folklore, in which a 'mare' is an evil female spirit or goblin that sits upon a sleeper's chest, suffocating them and/or giving them bad dreams." Hence, the word is actually the description of sleep paralysis. 

10. Malaria

Malaria is an infectious disease that causes chills and fever and is transmitted by the bite of an infected Anopheles mosquito. "This word comes from the medieval Italian mal (bad) and aria (air), describing the miasma from the swamps around Rome," according to Reddit user Back2Bach.

11. Vaccine

A Reddit user explained that "The word ‘vaccine’ comes from the Latin word 'vaccinus,' which means 'of the cow.' This is because the guy that first popularized the treatment and term prevented smallpox in children by exposing them to material from a cowpox blister, a milder form of smallpox."

12. Disaster

It is derived from the words "dis" meaning "bad" and "aster" meaning "star." It stems from the days of astrology and other scientific beliefs that events were predicted by the sky and stars, shared Reddit user Twirg.

13. Cliché 

A Reddit user explained that the word "Cliché" comes from the sound of dapping ink on typography - anyone who has handled an ink roller would understand the sound of sticky ink. Hence, it is the repeating sound of a frequently used ink roller.

14. Shenanigans

This word is reportedly derived from the Irish expression, "I play the fox" or "sionnachuighim." The phrase was eventually anglicized to shenanigans, "but had carried the same connotation in Ireland previous to its propagation in the English-speaking world," wrote Reddit user verboseinterlocutor

15. Orange

This one is pretty easy to guess, however, the word for the fruit reportedly came way before the color. People just called things that were orange, "yellow-red," before the word came into use. "Additionally, William of Orange (William III of England) has nothing to do with either the color or the fruit," according to Reddit user VeterisScotian.