As you may know, language has a beautiful habit of continually evolving over time, thus altering the meanings of words as time goes by. Not many people are aware of the fascinating origins of these commonly used English words, which is why the study of etymology is so important for understanding and preserving our cultural heritage.
Read on to discover the fascinating origins of some everyday English words.
Did you know that the word avocado originates from the Spanish aguacate? This word itself has derived from the ancient Aztec language, Nahuatl. In Nahuatl, the word ahuacatl actually means testicle believe it or not. Apparently the tasty fruit we call avocado, was said to resemble the male sex organ because they grow in pairs and hang awkwardly from trees!
Nahuatl is still commonly spoken today by a staggering 1.5 million people across Central America. Other words have been appropriated into the English language such as chocolate, guacamole, chili and tomato, so next time you tuck into some tasty avocado toast or dip your chips into some smooth guacamole, try not to think of the origin of the word avocado!
Continuing on with the food theme, did you know that the English word sandwich, which has been adopted by many cuisines worldwide, is actually named after the inventor of this wonderful snack? Who knew that there was a John Montagu, the Fourth Earl of Sandwich, who was knocking about in the UK back in the 18th century?
Apparently, Mr Sandwich was quite the gambler and had a reputation for never leaving the card table even to satisfy his hunger. Instead, he would request his valet to prepare and bring to him some slices of beef encased between two slices of bread, so that he could eat a meal using one hand, allowing him to continue playing unencumbered.
The popular snack caught on when his friends thought it was a good idea and also requested the dish themselves, by asking for “the same as Sandwich”. So, there you have it; the Fourth Earl of Montagu was also the first person to start the trend of “I’ll have what he/she is having”.
The origin of the English word salary harks back to the Latin word salarium for making payments for salt.
Often referred to as white gold, salt was a prized possession for people in ancient times, as it could be used to preserve food as well as an antiseptic for cleaning wounds. It was also commonly used as a form of payment for labourers in ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome.
As the Roman Empire overtook the Egyptian Empire, they decided to continue making payments in salt and this evolved into salary, describing what was handed to labourers and employees at the end of a working month.
You may have heard the phrase “worth his salt” and now you know where it comes from!
The English word whisky derives from the Latin aqua vitae, which was used by medieval monks to mean life water or more literally ‘the water of life’!
When monks travelled to Ireland in the Middle Ages, the term aqua vitae was transformed into usice beatha and uisge-beathea in Scots Gaelic when they reached Scotland.
Fast forward to present day English, there are two spellings for whisky in Scotland and whiskey Ireland, as the original Gaelic languages became anglicised.
As both Scots and Irish Gaelic were unwritten languages, there was no standardised spelling until very recently, but according to the Whiskey Museum in Dublin there is another, more cynical reason for the difference in spellings for the spirit. It comes down to marketing, a decision that involved increasing the price, which other companies soon adopted!
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Machine translation bots mightn’t know the origins of a word, which may have offensive roots or a complicated history behind it, which can result in alienating your international customers should you use it in a business setting.
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