Etymology: 10 words with hidden meanings

Unless you are a student of etymology, you may not know many origins of words that we use in our vocabulary on a regular basis.

Discovering how we have created a word to describe a concept, often using embedded meanings, has been fun and fascinating. Here are 10 of my favourites that I have come across:

1)      Impede: ‘pede’ originates from the Latin for foot, as you may know from centipede or millipede. If something is impeded it is hindered or obstructed; its feet are entangled!

2)      Disaster: This word has Latin origins and means ‘ill star’ as in asteroid.

3)      Daisy: A contraction of ‘a day’s eye’ because the daisy opens in the morning and closes at the end of the night!

4)      Treadmills: This term comes from a Victorian punishment when prisoners powered a huge mill crushing corn or rocks.

5)      Obvious: ‘ob’ is for right there in front of you. ‘Via’ means the road or path. Therefore if it is obvious, it is in the path right in front of you and you cannot fail to miss it.

6)      Squirrel: The origin of this word is from the Greek word ‘skiouros’ meaning shadow tail.

7)      Preposterous: ‘pre’ is before and ‘post’ is after. To have something before and after does not make sense, it’s ridiculous or preposterous.

8)      Clue: This originally meant ball of thread that was used to lead someone out of a maze and is now used more generically to give someone a clue.

9)      Checkmate: Deriving from the Arabic word ‘shah mat,’ literally translated as the king is dead.

10)  Ostrich: maybe not a word used in our day-to-day vocabulary, but one that we couldn’t resist adding in our list, comes from the Ancient Greek, meaning ‘big sparrow’!

If you have come across any interesting word origins, I’d love to hear about them. Just share your findings in the comments below.