I love tracking word origins because so there is so often are interesting stories behind them. Apparently knucklehead refers to someone with a brain the size of a knuckle. Samuel Johnson, the compiler of England’s first dictionary, claims the word nincompoop comes from the Latin phrase non compos mentis (“not of right mind”), initially a legal term.
“I’ll be a monkey’s uncle,” does not connect to Darwinism as I imagined but expresses surprise, amazement or disbelief. That phrase first appeared in an Ohio newspaper February 8th, 1925, with the statement, “If that’s a joke, I’m a monkey’s uncle.”
In 1807, William Cobbett wrote about using red herrings to lay a false trail while training hunting dogs—apparently over-ripe fish confused the sensitive noses of skilled hunting canines.
The term “caught red handed” originated in Scotland in the 15th century. Based on how it appears in early references, it describes people caught with blood on their hands from murder or poaching.
Malaria comes from two medieval Italian words “mal” meaning “bad” and “aria” meaning “air” – so it literally means “bad air”. The term was used to describe the unpleasant air coming from the marshlands surrounding Rome, which was believed to cause the disease. We now know that it’s the mosquitoes breeding in those conditions that cause the disease, not the air itself.
The world’s favorite lunch item is named for England’s 4th Earl of Sandwich, John Montagu. The story goes that 250 years ago, the 18th-century aristocrat requested that his valet bring him beef served between two slices of bread. He enjoyed eating this while playing card games as his hands wouldn’t get greasy and spoil the cards. Observing him, Montagu’s friends began asking for “the same as Sandwich”, and so the sandwich was born. Though people did eat bread with foods such as cheese and meat before this, those meals were known as “bread and cheese” or “bread and meat”. The sandwich is our ultimate convenience food.
Such findings make me want to discover more word origin
stories. Please send your favorites.