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10 interesting English words whose origin will surprise you
interesting words origins, learn english, NikaTeacher

As we have seen in the previous blog, How knowing other languages can help you learn English, there are many words in the English language which come from other countries. Some of these words do not only come from another language and you may not know it, but they also have an origin which you probably couldn’t have imagined. 10 interesting English words

In today’s blog we’re going to take a look at 10 interesting English words whose origin will surprise you. We even actually use some of these words in our daily life when speaking or writing, and they really have strange and unique origins that are unknown to us. You might even find funny the origins of some of these words!

1. Sandwich

The word sandwich makes reference to a very popular kind of food, made out of two slices of bread and some other food we put in the middle of it (such as cheese, ham, turkey, etc.).

What we don’t know is that this food was named after the 4th Earl of Sandwich, an English nobleman from the 1800s. It is believed that he used to eat his food between two pieces of bread so he could keep on playing on his gambling table, and his friends started asking the servants for “the same as Sandwich” and finally just “a sandwich”.

2. Clue

The word clue comes from the Greek word ‘clew’, used in the Greek myth of Theseus and the Minotaur. In this myth, Theseus used a ball of yarn or a ‘clew’ given to him by Ariadne so that he could find his way out of the labyrinth and not get lost.

A ‘clew’ is something that you use to guide your path, and it ended up becoming something that offers you guidance in your search to discover a truth. The spelling also changed a bit over time, becoming the word we use nowadays: ‘clue’.

3. Hooligan

Hooligan is a word used to describe a person who likes causing trouble for other people. The origin of the word is not completely clear, as there are many theories about it. If you look for the meaning in the Oxford English Etymology Dictionary, the name comes from an Irish surname (Houlihan) mentioned in an old song in the 19th Century.

The other most popular theory is that its origin goes back to the Jacobite Rising in the 18th Century, when a commander from the English army misheard the word for the insect midge in Scottish Gaelic, and created the word ‘hooligan’ to describe anyone and anything which was as frustrating as a midge.

4. Nice

The word nice is commonly used by students learning English, which has a positive meaning and is used to describe a good or pleasant person. But the word actually has a negative origin, as it is said to come from the French ‘nice’ which comes from the Latin ‘necius’.

At first it was used to describe a person who over-dressed in an absurd way but it finally (somehow) came to have the positive meaning that it has nowadays.

5. Shampoo

The word shampoo, which we normally use to refer to that soap we use to clean our hair, comes from the Hindi language and it means ‘to massage’. It was introduced into the English language and it ended up changing its meaning to something we use to ‘wash the hair’.

6. Nightmare

The word nightmare comes from joining two different words which are ‘night’ and ‘mare’. We know that the meaning of night is the period between sunset and sunrise, when we usually go to sleep. But the word mare (which shouldn’t be confused with mare = yegua) refers to a female goblin which suffocates you and tries to introduce bad thoughts into your head while you sleep.

7. Tattoo

Tattoos are a really popular thing that many people get done nowadays, but few people know that the word comes from the Polynesian ‘tatau’ which means ‘a mark made on the skin’, which is the same as the meaning we have for the English word.

Before introducing this word into the English language, tattoos in England (which were done before the Polynesia was discovered) were referred as a form of painting, and they weren’t seen as badly as they are nowadays by older people.

8. Ketchup

Ketchup, which is one of the most popular sauces in the entire world, was first used in the 17th Century and comes from the Chinese word ‘kôe-chiap’ which used to refer to a mix of pickled fish and spices. In the English language it was first used at the end of the 17th Century and it was spelt ‘catchup’.

9. Checkmate

Checkmate, which is used in English to refer to a chess move in which the figure of the king doesn’t have any moves left to escape and is completely trapped, comes from the Persian word ‘shāh māt’ (which translates to ‘the king is helpless’). It can also be traced to the Arabic language, in which the word ‘māta’ means dead (the king is dead). 10 English words

10. Robot

Robot normally refers to a machine which is capable of carrying out many different actions in an autonomous way. But the word robot comes from the Czech word ‘robota’ which actually means ‘forced labour’.

It is funny, as robots are ‘forced’ to do things for us and they cannot choose to not do it, so we could say they are forced to work for us.

Now I would like to know which of these words’ origins did you find most interesting. Did you already know any of their origins? Do you know any other words in the English language which have a strange or funny origin? Let us know in the comments section below!


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