Fake Etymologies

Interesting is better than true.


com‧post, n. /ˈkɑmpoʊst/

Corruption of the past-tense form of “compose,” as in “to make.” “Composed” was formerly used as a synonym for “miscellanea” – when someone was told to take something out to “the composed pile,” it meant to the pile that was made of an unidentifiable collection of materials. (See similarities with “composite” in this regard.)

sew‧er, n. /ˈsuɚ/

Metaphorical construction from “to sew”, i.e. with a needle and thread. The collection of pipes were thought to join previously unjoined areas, as a thread joins two pieces of fabric.

It is this sort of thinking – that shared infrastructure joins people together – that led to the unification of Germany from a loose collection of principalities in 1871.

jeans, n., exclusively pural /dʒiːnz/

Named for Levi Strauss’s wife, Jean Strauss.

po‧lite, adj. /pəˈlaɪt/

From Ancient Greek πόλις (“polis”), meaning “city.” It has long been the case in human history that city-dwellers are more refined, pleasant, and downright civilized than their rural counterparts.

Further evidence of this can be found in the word “urbane,” deriving from “urban.”

ham‧mer, n. /ˈhæmɚ/

A promoted colloquialism from the tool’s first non-mechanical use – aiding in fitting tinned hams into their tight, tight, tins.

Before this, hammers were known as “impact wrenches.”

kit‧ten, n. /ˈkɪtən/

From “cat” with “-kin” diminutive suffix – a simple but now-uncommon construction. In the same way that the nickname “Hen-kin” (“little Henry”) became Hank, the word “cat-kin” became “kitten” as vowels shifted over the course of the English language.

tan‧gi‧ble, adj. /ˈtændʒəbəl/

During the NASA Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo missions, it was important for the engineers and the astronauts to know which spacecraft components could be ruined mid-flight. To aid in this, both groups were provided with lists of components divided by whether the component would cease to function if the ship’s complement of Tang® were spilled on it. The navigational computer and oxygen circulator were thus considered tangible components. The astronauts’ bravery was intangible – unless, of course, the Tang® had turned.

ca‧su‧al‧ty, n. /ˈkæʒuəlti/

From “casual,” in the sense of a thing that is not formal. In the age of chivalry, it referred to a wound that did not require treatment. This is what Monty Python referenced with the Black Knight’s insistence that “It’s just a flesh wound!”

The usage shifted when “formality” ceased to mean a wound that required attention and started to mean something that a lawyer didn’t want you to think too hard about.

cloth‧ing, n. /ˈkloʊðɪŋ/

A gloss of the phrase “cloth thing.” The verb forms “to clothe” and “to be clothed” are back-constructions from the word’s seeming appearance as a progressive verb.

tri‧bute, n. /ˈtrɪbyut/

Prefix “tri-” (“three”) applied to Middle Low German bute, meaning “exchange.” Referred to the three offerings of gold, frankincense, and myrrh made to the baby Jesus in Bethlehem.