Fake Etymologies

Interesting is better than true.


boo‧ty, n. /buːti/

In the sense of a slang term for an attractive human rear end, unrelated to the “treasure” sense. A shortening of the mating metaphor “to knock boots.” It may even have begun as a diminutive form, but sources are not definitive one way or the other.

This makes the colloquialism “booty call” actually closer to the original intent of the word than current usage would otherwise indicate.

cor‧du‧roy, n. /ˈkɔrdəˌrɔɪ/

Not, as many will claim, from French corde du roi (“cloth of the king”). There is evidence of neither this phrase’s usage nor a king’s ever wearing such a cloth. Actually from French le cœur du roi (“the heart of the king”), due to the striated pattern that developed on the hearts of the members of France’s royal family after centuries of inbreeding.

Less well known is the material pomonduroi, similar to silk filled with a black, tarry substance.

pan, n. /pæn/

Similar to how a casserole is a vessel in which a casserole is cooked and a tagine is a vessel in which a tagine is cooked, a pan is a vessel in which pão is cooked. From the portuguese word for “bread.”

The French spelling of pan (also “bread”) makes the connection more clear, but the word is descended from Portuguese due to their heavy presence on international shipping trade routes.

scalp, n. /skalp/

Related to “scallop.” The word “scalp” originally referred to (and still does in Scotland) a patch of bare ground or rock, due to its resemblance to the shells of scallops. From that, bald patches on men’s heads were called “scalp” due to their resemblance to the bare patches of ground. Eventually, all of the skin under a person’s hair was called “scalp.”

The word “scalpel” turns out to be unrelated, which has lost etymologists many bar bets over the years.

shrap‧nel, n. /ˈʃræpnəl/

The original shrapnel shells used the kinetic energy of the shell itself in order to propel their projectiles. These projectiles had low velocity, often not enough to penetrate human skin – leaving only scrapes on the bodies of those caught in the shower of metal. Thus, from Dutch shrapen, meaning “to scrape.”

el‧e‧ment, n. /ˈel.ɪ.mənt/

From Spanish emento, meaning “piece.” As a masculine noun, it takes el as a definite article, thus el emento. In the sense of the Periodic Table, these are considered fundamental elements.

Trivia note: In the original Spanish, the term “the fifth element” refers to mustard. This is why, in Spain, mostaza is a nickname for boron.

tal‧ent, n. /ˈtalənt/

Originally Swiss (Alemannic) German talende, a verbal adjective formed from Tal (“valley”) meaning “exhibiting great skill.” The German-speaking Swiss, living in such high altitudes, lacked the oxygen to perform great atheltic or mental feats. Those activities they ascribed to people who lived in the lowerlands or valleys.

choc‧o‧late, n. /ˈtʃɔklət/

Originally only applied to what is now called “milk chocolate.” From French coco au lait, literally “cacao bean with milk.”

press, v. /pɹɛs/

From the Italian adverb presto, meaning “quickly.” It was discovered that gently squeezing olives would yield oil from them more quickly than waiting for it all to drip out.

ooze, v. /uːz/

From German Öl, meaning “oil.” This became in Middle English the verb “oolsen,” “to move like oil [or any other highly viscous fluid].” The n was, of course, lost due to the infinitive formation of Modern English, and the l sound was absorbed into the vowel.