How 12-year-old Gloria Lockerman taught us the word “disestablishmentarianism”
Useless Etymology
by Jess Zafarris
3M ago
A 12-year-old girl named Gloria Lockerman is the reason you learned the word “antidisestablishmentarianism” when you were a kid. Remember how you and your friends would toss it around, touting it as one of the longest words—if not the longest—in the English language? There are of course many longer words, many of them scientific or medical terms, like “pseudopseudohypoparathyroidism,” a thyroid condition that results in physical differences. And most longer words beyond that are intentionally absurd, like “floccinaucinihilipilification,” a word whose Latin components sort of mean “the percept ..read more
Visit website
A Brief, Etymological History of Christmas Elves
Useless Etymology
by Jess Zafarris
6M ago
In Old English, your average elf (or ælf or ylfe) belonged on the naughty list: They were malicious, imp-like creatures, blamed for mischief, mayhem and evil. At the time, another word for a nightmare was ælfadl, “elf-sickness,” and a hiccup was an ælfsogoða, “elf-cough, elf-heartburn.” In Beowulf, elves (ylfe) are in a list of monstrous races having sprung from Cain’s murder of Abel, and therefore despised by God. The Proto-Germanic root of “elf” may be one meaning “white”—making it a relative, through its PIE root, of “albino” and perhaps “Alp”— and that’s evident in Norse myth, which descri ..read more
Visit website
‘Words From Hell’ Emerges from the UnderWord, Exposing Etymology Horrors for All to See
Useless Etymology
by Jess Zafarris
8M ago
Plus, 5 haunting etymology facts to celebrate the book’s Halloween release. Something wicked—and wordy—this way comes. Today, Oct. 31, 2023, a book brimming with festering filth and malicious monstrosities claws its way from the darkest recesses of human imagination. And it’s nerdy as fuck. Meet Words from Hell by Jess Zafarris. (That’s me, your guardian into the UnderWord.) ORDER: Amazon • Barnes & Noble • Bookshop.org About Words from Hell The English language is where words go to be tortured and mutilated into unrecognizable shadows of their former selves. It’s where Latin, Greek, and ..read more
Visit website
Avast! 6 Swashbuckling Word Origins for International Talk Like a Pirate Day
Useless Etymology
by Jess Zafarris
9M ago
Note: This is an excerpt from my forthcoming book Words from Hell: Unearthing the darkest secrets of English etymology (Chambers, 2023). In honor of International Talk Like a Pirate Day, let’s explore the origins of a few piratey terms—albeit fictional ones, in many cases. Many of the terms and phrases we associate with pirates were not recorded during the Golden Age of Piracy, which extends roughly from the 1650s through the 1730s or 1750s, depending on your historian of choice. Rather, the way we imagine pirates talking is a result of writers like Robert Louis Stevenson (1850–95 ..read more
Visit website
The Etymology of “Spinster” and Its Gendered Ending
Useless Etymology
by Jess Zafarris
10M ago
Have you ever wondered why unmarried women over a certain age have historically been called spinsters? Originally a word for a woman who spins thread for a living, “spinster” is structured in the same way as words like “trickster” or “gangster”—it’s the word “spin” with an agent noun ending.  But the latter two words are far more recent constructions than “spinster”—and following a critical change in that ending. The -ster ending was originally an Old and Middle English suffix that specifically referred to actions and professions of women, corresponding to the masculine ending -er (as in ..read more
Visit website
The Word “Outrage” Technically Doesn’t Include “Out” or “Rage”
Useless Etymology
by Jess Zafarris
11M ago
Note: This is an excerpt from my forthcoming book Words from Hell: Unearthing the darkest secrets of English etymology (Chambers, 2023). Want to know something outrageous? The word “outrage” isn’t etymologically related to the words “out” or “rage.” It has completely different roots. It technically does not even contain the words “out” or “rage.” In fact, it’s not even originally a compound word. What happened was this: “Outrage” derives from the Latin word ultraticum, which meant “excessive.” The root is ultra, which in Latin means “beyond” or “extremely,” just like it does in Engli ..read more
Visit website
6 Fancy Words for Sexy Things
Useless Etymology
by Jess Zafarris
11M ago
In my forthcoming book Words from Hell (Chambers 2023), I spend a hefty chapter exploring the origins of all things erotic and naughty. The following excerpt from the book explores some entertaining and enticing terms that you may not have previously encountered—and even if you have, you may enjoy learning about their titillating origins. Bathukolpian (also spelled bathykulpian or bathycolpian) This word describes full, luscious breasts. It literally means “deep-bosomed” and is composed of the Greek elements bathys “deep” and kolpos “breast.” Callipygian This Greek-derived word means “having b ..read more
Visit website
“Shark” Was a Word for a Terrible Person Before It Was the Name of the Animal
Useless Etymology
by Jess Zafarris
1y ago
Note: This is an excerpt from my forthcoming book Words from Hell: Unearthing the darkest secrets of English etymology(Chambers, 2023). Sharks were named after terrible people. That’s right. “Shark” was a word for a human before it was a word for a fish.  Old English didn’t have a general word for the broad group of cartilaginous fish species that we now call sharks. It did have some more specific names. Some were often called “houndfish” or “sea dogs,” which survives in the shark species now known as “dogfish.” Hammerheads were originally and less scarily called “balance-fish” in En ..read more
Visit website
The Word “Blackmail” Has Nothing to Do With Mail
Useless Etymology
by Jess Zafarris
1y ago
Note: This is an excerpt from my forthcoming book Words from Hell: Unearthing the darkest secrets of English etymology (Chambers, 2023). Here’s a mindbending etymology fact for you: The word “blackmail” originally had nothing to do with mail as in letters, or for that matter, anything else we’d call mail today. In the 1500s and extending through the mid-1800s, clan chieftains and other officials in Scotland and northern England were known to run protection rackets against farmers. The practice was called blackmail, with the “black” part referring to the evilness of it. As for the mail par ..read more
Visit website
A Devilish Etymology Book Igniting This Halloween: WORDS FROM HELL
Useless Etymology
by Jess Zafarris
1y ago
Purchase my upcoming book and invite book banners across the world to challenge the truths within. The English language is where words go to be tortured and mutilated into unrecognizable shadows of their former selves. It’s where Latin, Greek, and Germanic roots are shredded apart and stitched unceremoniously back together with misunderstood snippets of languages snatched from the wreckage of conquest and colonialism. It wreaks havoc upon grammar and spelling. It turns clinical terms into insults. It turns children’s tales into filthy euphemisms. Beneath its surface lie sexism, racism, ableism ..read more
Visit website

Follow Useless Etymology on FeedSpot

Continue with Google
Continue with Apple
OR