Category Archives: Language

Why We Call the Seasons Summer, Autumn, Winter, and Spring


J.K. asks: Why are the seasons called winter, spring, summer, and fall? “Winter” derives from the Proto-Germanic *wentruz, meaning winter.  This in turn probably comes from the Proto-Indo-European (PIE) *wed, meaning “wet”.  Alternatively, it may come from the PIE *wind-, meaning “white”.  Either way, the Proto-Germanic *wentruz gave rise to the Old English “winter” as the fourth season of the […]

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Where Did the Word “Assassin” Come From?

Ruins of the fortress at Alamut

Chris Klick asks: Why is someone who murders a prominent person called an “assassin”. Where did this word “assassin” come from? The word “assassin” derives from a secretive murder cult in the 11th and 12th centuries called the “Hashishin”, meaning “hashish eaters”.  While much of the origin of this cult has been lost, the original leader was Hasan Ben Sabah, […]

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“Ye” in Names Like “Ye Olde Coffee Shoppe” Should Be Pronounced “The”, Not “Yee”


Today I found out the “ye” as in “Ye Olde Coffee Shoppe” should be pronounced “the”. The “Ye” here is not the “ye” as in “Judge not, that ye (you) be not judged”, but is rather a remnant of the letter “thorn” or “þorn” (Þ, þ).  The letter thorn was used in Old Norse, Old English-Middle English, Gothic, and Icelandic […]

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Where the Expression “I For One Welcome Our New X Overlords” Came From


Today I found out where the expression “I for one welcome our new X overlords” came from. For those not familiar with this now popular funny meme, the basic idea is to substitute X with any perceived extremely powerful entity that it would be futile to resist. A somewhat recent example of this can be seen when Ken Jennings, after […]

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Who Invented the Emoticon?

Smiley Emoticon

This is a guest post contributed by Nissi Unger “Emoticons,” short for “emotive Icons,” (emotive meaning “appealing to or expression emotion” hence “icons that express emotions”) have been around in vertical form for some time. However, sideways emoticons seem to be a surprisingly recent invention, going back just about three decades. “B4” the days of LOL and apps to aid […]

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Origin of the Phrase “Blonde Bombshell”

blonde bombshell

Today I found out the origin of the phrase “blonde bombshell”. “Blonde bombshell” is often used to describe an exciting, dynamic, sexy woman with blonde hair, particularly blonde celebrity sex symbols.  The expression seems to have come from, or at least was popularized by, a movie and originally referred to a specific blonde bombshell. In 1933, the platinum blonde Jean […]

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Why Do They Call Grandfather Clocks by That Name?


J.Kaus asks: Why are Grandfather clocks called Grandfather clocks? At first glance, the answer seems obvious. Think about it- when was the last time you saw a grandfather clock in the house of anyone under the age of 70? Grandfather clocks- with their long cases, pendulums, echoing chimes, and Roman numerals- seem to belong to the world of courting parlors, […]

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Why are Women Called Sluts, Dames, and Broads?

Technically this is a little girl, not a woman ;-)

Rinni asks: Why are women sometimes called “sluts”, “dames”, and “broads”?  Where did these words come from? Origin of the Word “Slut” “Slut” originally didn’t mean at all what it means today.  For instance, in a diary from 1664, Samuel Pepys writes, “Our little girl Susan is a most admirable slut, and pleases us mightily, doing more service than both […]

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A Man Once Tried to Raise His Son as a Native Speaker in Klingon

klingon baby

Today I found out a man once tried to raise his son as a native speaker in Klingon. The man in question is computational linguist Dr. d’Armond Speers.  Speers is actually not a huge Start Trek fan himself. Indeed, many Klingon language enthusiasts aren’t, contrary to popular perception.  They tend to be language lovers fascinated by constructed languages, of which […]

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Origin of the Word Lukewarm


Today I found out the origin of the word “lukewarm”. You’ve probably wondered why we have the word “lukewarm” for describing something that is only slightly warm.  Why not “stevewarm” or “beckywarm”?  Well if you didn’t before, hopefully you’re wondering now. It turns out, while today using “luke” to mean “warm” has gone out of fashion, possibly due to the […]

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