Words With Strange Origins

Etymologies are a delightfully niche interest. Barely anyone cares, but the people who do – oh boy, do they care. It is of our opinion that the interest is justified: Seriously, what could be more interesting than the secret history of the words which we all speak on a regular basis? That’s why we compiled a brief list of words with surprising etymologies, just to show the unbelievers how wrong they truly are.



Sandwich over blue background

Gettyimages/ Brian Macdonald/ DigitalVision



Definitely one of the most unforgettable etymologies. The word ‘Sandwich’ has its roots in the life of a certain 18th-century politician. English nobleman John Montagu held the title of the Fourth Earl of Sandwich. Yeah, that’s a place.  It’s unclear whether Montagu had requested his meals to be delivered in the form of a sandwich in order to fuel his gambling addiction, or whether the sandwiches were a way for him to remain at his desk and attend to his daily duties throughout lunch. These contrasting depictions are very much indicative of the duality of the sandwich: A food for the overly-productive, but also for the irredeemably lazy.




ball of pink yarn

Gettyimages/ Aigerim Dzhumagulova/ EyeEm


Want to try and guess this one? No? Not even if we give you a… clue? Ok, in all seriousness (or at least as serious as one can be when talking about philology), the word clue’s origin is of an epic nature. In the Ancient Greek myth of the Minotaur: The fabulous monster had trapped the great king Theseus in a sprawling labyrinth. The king, resourceful as they come, utilized a ball of yarn to record his path across the maze, leaving him the option to retrace his steps if he ever got lost. What’s this have to do with ‘clue”, you ask? Well, the Ancient Greek word for ‘yarn’ is pronounced: ‘clew’. Pretty wild, right?




shadow casted over woman having a nightmare

Gettyimages/ Lotus Carroll/ EyeEm


So the ‘night’ in ‘nightmare’ is obvious enough, but what in tarnation is a ‘mare’?  Reasonably enough, old English and Germanic folklore state that a mare is a sort of goblin-like malicious entity that smothers one’s chest and neck with his body and hair, creating a ‘Marelock’, while one is asleep. This, it was stated, causes nightmares. Spooky stuff.


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