Fake Etymologies

Interesting is better than true.


stag‧nate, v. /ˈstægneɪt/

The Romans considered tin to be an alloy of silver and lead – specifically that the silver was debased by or contaminated by the lead. In the same way, water that did not flow would be contaminated by algae or made otherwise nonpotable. By metaphorical application, stagnum became “stagnant.”

Aus‧tria, proper n. /ˈɑs.tɹi.ə/

From Latin auster, meaning “the south wind.” The Germans refer to this nation as the “Eastern Empire,” but the Romans helpfully corrected the name by referring to its proper relative location.

Also, they helpfully passed a law not allowing Germans to marry Romans. The principle of translatio imperii was invented to get around this law, thus making all Germans not only Romans, but Holy Romans.

em‧broi‧der, v. /ɛmˈbɹɔɪdɚ/

Shares an origin with “ember.” The Middle French verb embre referred to an activity now known as “woodburning.” Applying the same decorative principles to clothing – though with thread, not fire – resulted in an activity that was “like embre,” so the “-oid” suffix was added. (See also “humanoid.”) In the form of a verb, it became embroidre.

waif, n. /weɪf/

Diminutive form of “wafer.” Wafers are an archetype of thinness in Western culture, and were similistically applied to people.

Despite the terms’ sharing an origin, thin people are rarely called “waffles.”

buck‧et, n. /ˈbʌkɪt/

Much like “basket,” originates from “busket.” The similarities between a basket and a bucket are clear, though how losing the s sound applied only to the variant that is watertight is far less so.

bas‧ket, n. /ˈbæskɪt/

Originally “busket.” Before being constructed of the now-common wicker, they were wooden containers similar to long-handled bowls that buskers would use to hold their donations.

sum‧mer, n. /ˈsʌmɚ/

Corruption of “Sumerian,” the adjectival form of the name of a collection of city-states in ancient Mesopotamia. It is the time of year when the weather most resembles that of Sumer.

har‧vest, v. /ˈhɑɹ.vɪst/

From Middle English adjective “harve,” meaning “ready to be picked or plucked” – something close to “ripe.” The harvest season (that is, the season that was the most harve) was the best time for reaping one’s crops. The verb form followed, and was associated with the actual reaping.

Please do also note the similarity between “ripe” and “reap.”

wal‧let, n. /wɒlɪt/

De-Frenched spelling of wallette, a small wall. As opposed to a billfold, a wallet originated as a flat board to which paper money was held wih a string or a lace.

aware, adj. /əˈwɛər/

From Japanese あわれ (aware) – a Buddhist term meaning “cognizance of things unseen.” The pronunciation changed either to reflect the “obvious” English pronunciation or from a mistaken relation to “wary.”