• Luccia Haughton

16 Simple English Words and Their Origin

Grammatically, English is such a simple language. I firmly believe that's just because the Brits cherry-picked the easiest word out of every other language they encountered and said 'this is mine now', just like they did with other countries' land.


Today, we will look at some very simple English words we use in our day-to-day life and explore where they take their roots.


Avocado

This superfruit won its name from an Aztec language called Nahuatl. The word originated from the word 'Ahuacatl' which means testicle. So, you can honestly tell people you enjoy testicle toast with sea salt!


Berserk

Berserker was the name given to Norse warriors who fought with a passion that bordered on madness. When Vikings arrived on English coasts, the Saxons gave the scariest warriors this name.


Whiskey

The word has Gaelic origins. It comes from the words 'uisge beatha' which literally translated means 'water of life'. But if you order a water of life at a bar and need to clarify that you mean whiskey... you'll likely get a few dirty looks thrown at you.


Smart Aleck

Maybe no longer widely used in the current generation, I have met some very surly Brits who have called me a Smart Aleck in their time. Today, I found out that Aleck Hoag was a pimp in New York in the 1840s. His wife would seduce men into bed, and as they slept, Hoag would loot them of their money. Criminal Aleck may have been more fitting, but smart has a better flow to it.


Sycophant

This word has a long backstory to it. In ancient Greek, it meant 'fig revealer'. 'Suko' means figs and 'phantes' stands for people who reveal something. Back in the day, exporting figs was a criminal offense and people who told on the smugglers were called sycophants. You dirty fig stealer you, wait 'til I get me hands on ya!


Mortgage

The Old French word 'mort' means dead and 'gage' means pledge. Despite such an unnatractive name, people still thought loans were a good choice.


Lukewarm

I'm sorry, there is no Luke who was a little too warm all the damn time and the rest of the town decided to make fun of him and bully him for centuries to come. Lukewarm is a Middle English word that's pretty redundant as 'luke' meant warm back then. So the word lukewarm as per the origins would mean 'warm warm'.


Pamphlet

This word comes from a love poem called 'Pamphilus de Amore' which was the most famous and influential of the medieval elegiac comedies, especially in Spain. This poem was supposedly passed from one person to another.


Muscle

It's funny how paradoxical origins can be. This word's origin lies with the Latin language where it meant 'little mouse'. Apparently, muscles looked like mice under the skin to people back then.


Nice

This word has its origins in Latin, where it meant 'ignorant'. Boy, does etymology give you life lessons!


Loophole

Also known as murder holes, these were slits in a castle from where soldiers shot their arrows.


Lemur

This animal's nocturnal activities were the influence behind the origin of the name of this animal. In Latin, it means 'spirit of the dead'. Now, just imagine that instead of a hooded figure with a scythe, a cute little lemur comes to send you to your afterlife. I can't wait!


Disaster

In Greek, 'dis' means bad and 'aster' means star. The word comes from the Greeks who blamed unfavorable conditions on the stars and planetary movements. Not too far off, the clever Greeks!


Hazard

The etymology of this word lies with the Arabic word 'al zahr' which means dice. During the Crusades, it took on a negative connotation as games with dice were associated with gambling.


Girl

The true origins of the word remain uncertain, but it's said to be related to 'gor' a Low German word that means 'child'. The early usage of the word was for children of both sexes. The word evolved in German to 'Göre' which means brat.


Sarcasm

If you have ever been torn apart by sarcastic comments, then you have experienced the origin of the word. It can be traced back to the Greek word 'sarkazein' which means 'to tear flesh'.


Now, go be a smart Aleck and tell people all about how you eat testicles and have tiny mice living in your body!