Where did each of the seven continents get their names? The answer involves the sunrise and sunset, a big bear and a little bear, and three mythological queens.
Category Archives: etymology
Why is a tournament where each team plays the other in turn called a round robin? The answer involves ribbons, religious refugees, and ringleaders.
The Language of Love
Why do we have such strange ways of saying we’re in love—whether we’re infatuated, head over heels, or crushing on someone? The answer involves structural metaphors, semantic change, and secret diaries.
The Archetypal Apple
Why are apples seen as the “default” fruit in Western culture? The answer involves Greek myths, Latin spelling mistakes, and English semantic narrowing.
Why do good spellers compete in a spelling “bee”? The answer involves all the favorite subjects of a spelling bee winner—etymology, philology, and, of course, spelling.
Why Are Salads “Salted”?
Why does the word salad sound suspiciously like the word for salted in many languages? And where did salads come from, anyway? The answer takes us from ancient Rome to the high-class hotels of New York to Tijuana, Mexico.
The Garden of Children
Why is the first year of school for children called kindergarten? The answer involves a nature mystic, a case of mistaken identity, and a socialism scare.
I’ll Take a Gander—And a Silly Goose
Where does the phrase “to take a gander” come from? As one of the many delightful goose-related idioms in the English language (see “goose egg” and “silly goose”), the history of “to take a gander” involves male waterfowl and nosy neighbors.
Where did the word groovy come from? The answer takes us back to the early days of electronic sound production, to the Jazz Age, and to the outta sight world of the ’60s.