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15 Apr 2019

The word pactolian cropped up on HH this week, defined as an adjective describing anywhere covered in golden sands. 

The word pactolian name-checks the Pactolus, an ancient river of Asia Minor that flows into the Aegean Sea in what is now modern-day Turkey. According to legend, the sands that line th...

26 Jul 2018

Undoubtedly one of the most interesting etymological stories out there popped up on the HH Instagram today: the fact that mediocre literally means “halfway up a mountain”.

How and why? Well, at the root of the word mediocre is the Latin ocris, meaning “a jagged or sharp-edged mountain”. Through...

23 Jul 2018

File this one away for future reference. Yes, there really is a word for those isolated, dilapidated houses and outbuildings that you stumble across while you’re hiking in the countryside: they’re tholtans

If you think that word doesn’t look all that English, you’d be right. Tholtan is one of...

A fact we just couldn’t leave unexplained this week also turned out to be the week’s most popular: the town at the geographical centre of North America is called Center.

That on its own is interesting enough, but then to find out that it’s name is a complete coincidence? How the dickens did that hap...

The fact that the name Scandinavia began life as a spelling error propagated by Pliny the Elder proved popular over on the HH Instagram page this week: 

Scandinavia was originally “Scadinavia”, but Pliny (seemingly mistakenly) added a second N in the first century AD. The popularity and inf...

30 Mar 2018

If you’re following HH on Instagram, you’ll have found out this week that there’s a town in northeast France simply called Y:

Y stands around 30 miles east of Amiens in the Somme department of Hauts-de-France in northern France. Its name, incidentally, is pronounced as a short “ee”, not as the F...

18 Mar 2018

Facts about words whose opposites aren’t particularly well known always prove popular on HH. In the past we’ve talked about everything from dysphemisms rather than euphemismspreponing rather than postponing, and Lima Syndrome, the Peruvian opposite of Stockholm Syndrome. And this week, w...

25 Jan 2018

A curious etymological fact popped up on HH last week: a lake was originally a stream. 

Pithy little stop-you-in-your-tracks-how-can-that-be-right facts like these always go well on HH—so well, in fact that (Shameless Plug #452) you can read the stories behind 100 of them in The Accidental Dictionary...

5 Apr 2017

Following on from the periscians and the Sciapodes that have cropped up on HH recently, the other day we tweeted the word Thule:

And it’s another of those unassuming words that has a superb story—and, in particular, a story about Ancient Greek geography—behind it. 

To the Ancient Greeks, Thule (which...

15 Mar 2017

Last week, we tweeted this:

And, as is always the case with unassuming words like this one, scratch below the surface and there’s a superb story to tell.

The word periscian was adopted into English via Latin, but has its roots in Ancient Greek. Coined in the second century BC by the Greek philosopher...

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10 Jun 2019

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