Etymology is the study of words, their meaning, and evolution through history. Most of us know that English emerged from Germany when the Anglo-Saxons reached present-day England. Around 29% of English is taken from French and Latin, and many other words from different languages also comprise a rich vocabulary of it, including Hindi words like a bazaar, loot, jungle, etc. This borrowing is a vast subject in itself, and so is how they changed in spelling, pronunciation, and meaning with their arrival. So, let's look at some words familiar in our vernacular tongue that have a riveting origin.
Embracing the evil
- Satan - It is derived from Hebrew "Shaitan", which means devil or an evil spirit. It was first used to refer to black British youth who fought against racism in England. When John Milton wrote "Paradise Lost", he immortalized the character and with it the name.
- Sinister - It is a Latin word meaning left. Earlier the left-hand side was used to denote something inauspicious or wrong. This notion might have a biblical origin with God saving those on the right or Eve standing on the left side of Adam. So in the English language, the word signifies something which gives the perception of being harmful or shady.
- Assassin - It has evolved from the word "Hashishin", the Hashishin's were a clever murder cult of the middle east. The legend goes that the cult leaders employed people by giving them Hashish and misleading them into believing that they were in heaven.
Of peculiar men
- Chauvinist - The word was included in the English dictionary on Napoleon's soldier, Nicolas Chauvin. He was excessively boastful and proud of his fatherland and sang its praises whether it made sense or not. Today it means someone who thinks of himself as superior to the fairer sex or citizens of other countries.
- Martinet - Another army man was Jean Martinet, the strict drill sergeant of King Louis XIV's army. He had the reputation of being rigorous and making soldiers toil all day for his amusement. So if your boss makes you work extra hours without an urgent project, then you are well within your rights to call him/her a martinet (only when he or she isn't around, though).
- Chivalry - It has roots in the old French term, chevalier. The word "cheval" in French means horse; chevalier alluded to horseman or knights. The knights had a high moral code and treated women with the utmost respect. When the word chivalry was introduced in English, it meant this trait of knights.
For the food connoisseurs
- Sandwich - The favorite breakfast of the world sandwich was named so in honor of the Earl of Sandwich, John Montague. The Earl was fond of hunting and of snacking too. He wanted to have a dish which he could easily hold in one hand while traveling on his horse and could be customized to his mood. So to cater to these needs, the Sandwich was made.
- Ketchup - Next in line is the partner in crime, ketchup. Far from Sandwich, England ketchup originated in China. They used pickled fish and spices to make a dip for their crisps, and it became an instant hit in Malaysia and Indonesia too. The British colonized these areas and brought their expertise back to Europe. The Italians only added tomatoes to ketchup once it was shown that they were not harmful.
Truth and finding the truth
- Sincere - The word is made up of two parts, "Sine" and "cera", the former means without or in the absence of, while the latter means wax in the Italian language. With the renaissance, the art of sculpting gained prominence, and amateur artists often filled cracks of pots and statues with wax. This made them look neat, but later the polish wore off, and these objects were rendered useless. So, there were people who checked this, and if the product was genuine, they wrote 'Sine Cera' beneath it to let everyone know that it's real. When adapted to English, it meant something honest and truthful.
- Genuine - It comes from the Latin word "Genuine", which means knee. This mysterious connection is through a Roman tradition, a father to prove a child legitimately put the baby on his knee, thereby acknowledging it. When considered in English, it means natural or the prior word, sincere.
Etymology is thus a fascinating field with several rabbit holes waiting to be explored; it helps one interpret the beauty of words in a new light. Fans of Dan Brown's "The Da Vinci Code" may already know this, but last but not least, I'd like to propose one conspiracy theory that the novel was based on. San Greal translates to "Holy Grail," while Sang Real translates to "Royal Blood."
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