50 Strange and Fascinating Word Origins in the English Language

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1 Phoenix


The modern English word phoenix derives from the Middle English word phenix, which itself was derived from the Old English fenix, which was borrowed from Medieval Latin phenix, which is derived from Classic Latin phoenix.

2. The term “cliffhanger” is considered to have originated with Thomas Hardy’s novel “A Pair of Blue Eyes,” serialized in Tinsley’s Magazine in 1872-3, in which a protagonist is left literally hanging off a cliff.

3. The name “England” is derived from the Old English name Englaland, which means “land of the Angles.”

4. The word ‘jaguar’ is actually derived from the Native American word ‘yaguar’ meaning “he who kills with one leap.”

5. The word “Guy” originates from Guy Fawkes, the “guy” who tried to blow up the British Parliament in 1605 and the word didn’t exist before that.

6 Nice


The word “nice” is derived from the Latin “nescius”, which meant “ignorant”, “unaware”, or “not knowing”.

7. The name of Canberra, the capital of Australia, is derived from Nganbira, a Ngunnawal word meaning “the space between a woman’s breasts.” This is because the floodplain the city is built on lies between two mountains.

8. The word “Meme” originates from famous evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins’ 1976 book “The Selfish Gene.”

9. ‘Sine’ is derived from an Arabic word for ‘bosom’, thus making it the oldest mathematical joke.

10. The word ‘Lunatic’ was derived from ‘Lunaticus’, which directly translates to ‘moon-struck’, since it was once thought that some mental illnesses were caused by a full moon.

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11 Shampoo


The word Shampoo is derived from the Hindi word ‘chāmpo’ which in turn is derived from the Sanskrit root ‘chapayati’ meaning: “to press, knead and soothe.”

12. The word robot originates from the Czech word “robotnik” which means “slave.”

13. The word “bedlam”, meaning chaos, is derived from the infamous Bedlam insane asylum established in 1247. It was notorious for its brutal treatment of the mentally ill, and for allowing fee paying spectators to watch the “bedlam.”

14. The word “quisling”, or a person who collaborates with an enemy occupying force, is derived from a man named Vidkun Quisling, who headed a domestic Nazi collaborationist regime in Norway during the World War 2. His name is now synonymous with the word “traitor.”

15. The word “senate” is derived from the Latin “senex” which means “old man”, making “senate” mean “the place of old men.”

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16 Stroke


The medical term “stroke” originates from “The stroke of God’s hand.”

17. The name ‘orchid’ is derived from the greek word for ‘testicle.’

18. The word “thug” originates from a murderous Indian cult that strangled travelers to death. The cult operated for over 500 years and may have killed millions of people.

19. The word “Gauze” is derived from Gaza because this ancient city was known for making very fine fabrics.

20. The name gorilla is derived from the Greek word ‘Gorillai’ meaning ‘a tribe of hairy women.’

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21 Lord


The term ‘lord’ is derived from Old English ‘hlaford’, which roughly translates to ‘loaf guardian’. So a host (noble) handing out bread to his followers signified loyalty between the Anglo-Saxon lord and his warriors.

22. The word barbarian originates from Ancient Greeks impersonating Persian speech which they heard as sounding like “bar bar bar bar.”

23. The word “darling” is derived from an old English term meaning “favorite minion.”

24. The word “candidate” is derived from the Latin word “candidatus” which means “whitened”. The word refers to the whitened togas that Romans wore specifically during election campaigns.

25. The term X-mas doesn’t originate from the deletion or “x-ing” out of Christ like some people believe. The X is taken from the Greek word “Χριστός” or khristós (the anointed one).

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