Friday, June 08, 2007

Enigmatic etymology

Being a bit of a linguist, I find word origins fascinating, particularly as they often come from unusual sources. Here are a few examples of unusual etymologies:
  1. The English word hazard comes from the Persian word (via Arabic, Spanish and French) izr which means a die.
  2. The Spanish word for head is cabeza which comes from the Latin capita (as in the phrase per capita). So where does the French tête come from? From the Latin word testa meaning vase. Bizarre, non? But what's even stranger is that exactly the same thing happened in German. The German kopf comes from the Germanic kupaz meaning (and from where we get the word) "cup".
  3. Grammar and glamour come from the same word.
  4. Chicago means garlic.

And that'll do for now.


  1. Interesting. It seems that the Italian word for head "testa," I believe, has the same origins as the French word. The Portuguese word for head, cabelo, seems to come from the same Latin word as the Spanish one. Any idea why there is this split?

  2. The word 'testa' meaning head was originally jocular in Latin, but in French and Italian became the standard word for head. In Spanish (and possibly Portuguese) "testa" is still only used in an informal sense to refer to head (often in a figurative sense as well), but is the origin of words such as "testarudo" (stubborn, pigheaded).