What I Learned Today: Word Edition

I do appreciate a good word, as well as unusual words – a reason why I love the blog other-wordly. I think some of us forget that words have connotations and then it’s actual denotation. Sure, sometimes we throw out an adjective that we initially thought would describe a situation, but once it’s said it raises a question mark – was that really the right word?

The English language is vast. There are many words with similar descriptions and yet they are never the same. There is always an iota of a difference, always one varying factor. So, can you see why I love a good word? Here are some interesting words and their origin:

  • Inflammable – Inflammable is the same as flammable, or rather both mean to catch fire easily. I’ve actually never given much thought to this word and its meaning. I can see how the prefix ‘in’ and the existence of ‘flammable’ would make people think it means something is incapable of burning. And, really, is anything in this world unaffected by fire? (Source)
  • Kith and kin –¬†There’s just something pleasant about this word. It belongs in inspirational speeches. I can see ancient Briton warriors before a battle trying to pep up their warriors – “Who do you fight for? Me? Yourself? No! It is for your kith and kin. The dear ones sitting at home waiting for your return!”

dictionary screenshot


  • Jostle – The definition from Merriam Webster:

(verb) to come in contact or collision

Jostle’s original word is actually ‘justle,’ which you can see is similar to ‘joust.’ And it seems there’s always someone with a dirty mind, because apparently men pointing lances at each other in a competition inspired sexual jokes. No surprise, right? As a result ‘justle’ was also slang for sex. If an etymologist asks if you want to jostle, it might be best to clarify definitions.

  • Ovation – A standing ovation is just about the best recognition a performer can get, right? Well, not in the eyes of the Romans. When Roman commanders returned from their battles the most accomplished commander returned to a full processional. Imagine a festive scene where prisoners of war are marched for all to point fingers at, while the top dog comes down the line in a grand chariot, and receives a glorious laurel crown. And what about the other commanders? Unfortunately, they received none of the pomp and circumstance. What they got was an ovation. So how did ovation go from being “Oh well, better next time” to “YOU’RE THE BEST!”?
  • Fun – Having a fun weekend? ‘Fun’ actually evolved from a word meaning to deceive or to cheat, essentially to making a fool of someone. Do we have a twisted sense of humor for always appreciating someone being tricked, tripped or tricked?
  • Fond – The origin of ‘fond’ is closely related to the origins of ‘fun.’ Fun may have been an alternate pronunciation of the word ‘fon’ which means to be foolish or to make a fool of. To say that you’re fond of someone or something is to say that you have been fooled by said person or thing. Makes me think that it’s true … love makes a fool out of you.
  • Pretty – “I feel pretty, oh so pretty!” The meaning of this word has been twisted it seems. In Old English, ‘pretty’ originally meant ‘artful, crafty or cunning.’ And I suppose cunning or crafty came to be a valued trait in ladies in the 1400s because it came to mean ‘admirable, fine acceptable and honorable.’ The word ‘pretty’ seems to be a backhanded compliment all on its own. You’re cunning and that’s admirable but is it really desired? You’re pretty … but it’s not the same as beautiful, right?
  • Poppycock – This word has developed the connotation of a grandmotherly way of saying something is absolute bullshit. And it’s really not far off. The word came from ‘pappekak’ a word from a Dutch dialect meaning ‘soft dung.’ And honestly is there any shit that’s worse than ‘soft dung?’ UGH.


I hope this has been interesting for you so far. Another interesting point to touch on is that words hold so much history in themselves. Take the word ‘pretty’ for example. It started out as an insult, but because societal values changed the word came to be a compliment. I can imagine that in the 1400s cunning girls were called pretty because they came up with crafty ways of landing a husband. But lo and behold, those ‘pretty’ girls are actually landing husbands! Maybe they’re worth more than what the gossiping mother hens are labeling them as. Maybe … cunning is a good thing? Maybe … it’s good to be pretty? See what I mean? I can just see it all in some 15th century granny’s head.

Most of these explanations came from this little book I picked up at the library: Unfortunate English by Bill Brohaugh

Unfortunate English book cover

Have you learned something new today?



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