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11 Aug 2018

If you have the HH guide to sea-changing etymologies, The Accidental Dictionary, on your bookcase, then you’ll partly know this one already. If you don’t—why not? And also, more importantly—as a verb, heartburn used to mean “to make jealous.”

So how does that work? Well, as we say this story is at le...

A popular bit of etymology cropped up on HH this week: the fact that the “were–” of werewolf literally means “man”.

This is something that we’ve touched on before on HH, in a blog about the original etymological meanings of man (“human”), woman (“wife-man”), boy (“servant, aide”), and girl (“child”)...

25 Mar 2018

The history of the word husband is a complicated one, but we probably borrowed it from Scandinavia. The Old Norse word husbondi was used of the male head of a household, pieced together from hus, meaning “house”, and bondi, meaning “dweller”, “freeholder”—or more literally, “one who lives in bo...

Two heart-related etymologies turned up on the H​​​​​​​H feed last week: the fact that heartache originally meant “heartburn”, and the fact that heartburn originally meant “lust”.

Proof that heartache was originally a medical rather than an emotional problem comes from a fairly unlikely source: Bald’...

The origins and histories of four everyday words cropped up on HH this week: 

Whereas man meant simply “person” or “human” in Old English (a meaning that still survives in words like manslaughter, mankind and manhandle), the word for an adult male in Old English was wer (which still survives tod...

An old bit of language folklore will have you believe that currying favour with someone—that is, obsequiously ingratiating yourself with them for personal gain—is based around the image of gradually mixing yourself into their group until you’re finally admitted into it, just as the flavours in a cur...

21 Dec 2016

The final entry in our series of extracts from the new HH book, The Accidental Dictionary, is the confusing story behind the original fiasco... 

Imagine you’re at the theatre. The show gets off to an inauspicious start when the curtain fails to open properly, and then, as the first performer takes to...

16 Dec 2016

The penultimate entry in our series of extracts from the new HH book, The Accidental Dictionary, tells the surprisingly medical history of a branch of mathematics.

“Long story short, no, you probably haven’t been mis-sold PPI.” (Image credit: Public domain)

If you didn’t much care for mathematics at s...

13 Dec 2016

Next in our series of extracts from The Accidental Dictionary is the story of the earliest fetishes—which weren’t quite what you might expect them to be...

 (Image credit: Public domain)

In 1689, a young British chaplain named John Ovington was hired by the East India Company to travel to Asia to...

7 Dec 2016

The latest entry in our series of extracts from The Accidental Dictionary is the story behind the tiddlywink—which began life not as a game, but as a place. And even when it finally did become a game, it wasn’t originally the one you think it was...  

One of the earliest recorded references...

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