Word of the Week

Word history and etymology

Word of the Week – Ambivalence
Did you know that ambivalence was coined as psychological term? It was based on the word equivalence, which is comprised of two Latin roots, equi (equal) and valentia (strength)--which of course means that two things are of equal strength. Well, in 1910, Swiss...
Word of the Week – Sloth
Time for another round of "which use came first?"! My husband and I were talking about this one a little while ago. Sloth. So which came first, the deadly sin or the slow-moving animal? My theory was that the attribute came first and the animal was named after it, and...
Word of the Week – Clone
Clone. It's a word we all know...and use often enough that most of us probably haven't given much thought to where in the world it came from. And once you pause to think it through, you're probably still shrugging, am I right? That short little word doesn't give us a...
Word of the Week – Tabby
Okay, I admit it. The only use of tabby I'm all that familiar with is the cat--and I didn't know until we rescued a tabby kitten that tabby just means striped. (There was totally a call to the vet that answered the question of "Color?" with "I don't know, a kind of...

Have you ever wondered when certain words started to be used in certain ways? Or how they even came about? If they’re related to other, similar-sounding words?

I wonder these things all the time. And so, for years I’ve been gathering interesting words together, looking at the etymology, and posting them in fun, bite-sized posts called Word of the Week. Here you’ll find everything from which definition of a word pre-dates another, to how certain holiday words came about, to what the original meaning was of something we use a lot today but in a very different way. And of course, the surprising words that we think are new but in fact are pretty ancient, like “wow”!

Word of the Week – Season (Archive)

Word of the Week – Season (Archive)

Originally published July 2018 Before bed one night, while we were waiting for his sister to finish washing her face and brushing her teeth, my son and I were coming up with silly reasons for each season’s name. It began with the easy-to-determine fall. “Hey!” Rowyn...

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Word of the Week – Coffee (Archive)

Word of the Week – Coffee (Archive)

Last published June 2017. I've featured this word a few times now before, and I know much of my readership has changed over the years. And let’s be honest–coffee deserves to be featured again. Because it’s one of the most beautiful creations in the universe. 😉 The...

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Word of the Week – Surf (Archive)

Word of the Week – Surf (Archive)

Originally Published September 2019 Surf began its life as a noun meaning “waves coming ashore” in about 1680, though it was quite likely a variation on suffe, from the 1590s. Where did it come from? No one’s quite sure. But it was originally used to describe the...

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Word of the Week – Thing

Word of the Week – Thing

Thing. It’s one of those words we use so much that it’s nearly meaningless…but in fact, it began its life as a very particular THING.

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Word of the Week – Cliché

Word of the Week – Cliché

Did you know that the literal meaning of “helicopter” is “spriral winged thing”? And the root words don’t break where you might think.

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Word of the Week – Holy

Word of the Week – Holy

I daresay we have all made jokes about “holy,” “holey,” and “wholly” … but in fact, they’re more related than we might think!

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Word of the Week – Nightmare

Word of the Week – Nightmare

Nightmare. We all know what it is. A bad dream that leaves you breathless. Or any situation that conjured up those horrible feelings. Right? Well, today...sure. But in fact, nightmare didn't mean "any bad dream" until 1829! What did it mean before then, you ask? Well,...

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Word of the Week – Ye

Word of the Week – Ye

We've probably all come across those cutesy, old-timey signs, right? "Ye Olde Sweets Shoppe" or the like. Cutsey and old-timey because they're using spellings no longer in use, which our modern eyes immediately recognize as coming from the 18th century or earlier....

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Word of the Week – Quintessential

Word of the Week – Quintessential

When we use the word quintessential today, we use it to mean "something is typical or representative of a particular kind." So to an American, apple pie is the quintessential pie, perhaps. (Let's not start a heated debate here, now, you cherry lovers! It's just an...

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Word of the Week – Toilet

Word of the Week – Toilet

When we moderns here the word toilet, me may be inclined to wrinkle our noses. But our ancestors of centuries past would have had a far different response. Toilet has been in the English language since the 1530s, when it came to us from French as "a garment bag." Yep,...

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Word of the Week – Apron

Word of the Week – Apron

Did you know that "an apron" used to be "a napron" ... until eventually people got confused about the ellision and changed the spelling to match? Even funnier is that this has happened quite a lot in English (and other romance languages that have articles with n, like...

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Word of the Week – Orange

Word of the Week – Orange

Did you know that orange, meaning the color, wasn't used until the 1500, while orange, for the fruit, dates to the 1300s? And that's just in English! The fruit is truly ancient, and our word traces its roots ultimately back to the Sanskrit naranga, by way Persian,...

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Word of the Week – Oxymoron

Word of the Week – Oxymoron

Did you know that the word oxymoron is itself an oxymoron? The word means "a figure conjoining words or terms apparently contradictory so as to give point to the statement or expression," such as "a little big", "pretty ugly," "deafening silence," and so on. As a...

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Word of the Week – Colonel

Word of the Week – Colonel

I will never forget writing the Culper Ring Series, in which I had a prominent character named Fairchild, and growling incessantly over trying to remember how to spell his rank: lieutenant colonel. My critique partner and I joked about it and started typing it (in...

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Word of the Week – Jargon

Word of the Week – Jargon

Jargon. We all know what it is--"phraseology specific to a sect or profession." And it's something that, as a novelist, is both intimidating and useful. I know that if I want my thieves, spies, military personnel, seamstresses, innkeepers, Southerners, Englishmen,...

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Word of the Week – Panic

Word of the Week – Panic

Since last week I examined the Greek-mythology-origins of the word clue, I thought I'd stick to the theme and do another word from Greek mythology today. This one I've known for many years, so I always just assumed everyone else knew it too...but of course, not...

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Word of the Week – Clue

Word of the Week – Clue

Clue we know as "anything that guides or directs." We generally think of it as something that helps us solve a mystery or answer a question. But did you know that clue actually relates directly back to an Ancient Greek myth? That's right! In the myths of Theseus, one...

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Holiday History Recollection #5

Holiday History Recollection #5

Welcome back to my series on Holiday History Recollections, where I'm looking at some of the posts I've done over the years on the history of holiday words and traditions! Holiday History Recollection #1Holiday History Recollection #2Holiday History Recollection...

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Holiday History Recollection #4

Holiday History Recollection #4

Welcome back to my series on Holiday History Recollections, where I'm looking at some of the posts I've done over the years on the history of holiday words and traditions! Holiday History Recollection #1Holiday History Recollection #2Holiday History Recollection #3...

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Holiday History Recollection #3

Holiday History Recollection #3

Welcome back to my series on Holiday History Recollections, where I'm looking at some of the posts I've done over the years on the history of holiday words and traditions! Holiday History Recollection #1Holiday History Recollection #2 This week, let's look at some...

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Holiday History Recollection #2

Holiday History Recollection #2

Welcome back to my series on Holiday History Recollections, where I'm looking at some of the posts I've done over the years on the history of holiday words and traditions! If you've missed the previous ones in this series, you can find them here: Holiday History...

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Holiday History Recollection #1

Holiday History Recollection #1

Over the years I've had so much fun looking up not only the etymology of holiday words, but also the history behind some of our common traditions. So now that we're in Advent, I thought I'd do a series of recollections and look at those posts from years past...because...

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Word of the Week – King

Word of the Week – King

The start of Advent seems like a great time to look at the history of a word that reminds Christians of Christ--our Lord and...you guessed it...KING! King is obviously a word that's been around forever and hasn't varied much in meaning. But have you ever wondered...

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Word of the Week – Upset

Word of the Week – Upset

We've all been there. We've had a bad day, something went wrong, someone hurt our feelings, or maybe we're just not feeling well physically--times when the best word we can find to describe our state is upset. We all know what we mean--that nothing's quite right, that...

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Word of the Week – Groundwork

Word of the Week – Groundwork

The day, my husband and I were walking and talking about a potential building project, and he said something about all the work that needs to go into a foundation, water lines, electric, etc--that "groundwork accounts for half the work." He then mused as to whether...

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Word of the Week – November

Word of the Week – November

Have you ever paused to wonder at the names of our months? Nearly all of them are taken from the Roman calendar, which means there are some hold overs from a culture and language that may seem odd to us. Some of the months are named for gods (January, March, April,...

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Word of the Week – Halloween

Word of the Week – Halloween

It's Halloween! Whether you observe the day or decry it (or something in between), one can't ignore the fascinating history of both the word itself and the traditions surrounding it. I've blogged about it before in a post that combines all my recollection as I looked...

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Word of the Week – Seersucker

Word of the Week – Seersucker

Last week we were chatting about the style of certain classmates from college, and a friend said, "I bet he wears seersucker suits, doesn't he?" In fact, he does. 😉 But it made me curious about the word. We've likely all seen that iconic striped fabric...but did you...

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Word of the Week – Denouement

Word of the Week – Denouement

If you've studied plot structure at all, you may have come across the word denouement. It's that wrapping-up part of a story that happens after the climax, sometimes called the resolution. We've been using this word in English since the 1750s, borrowed directly (of...

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Word of the Week – Betrothed

Word of the Week – Betrothed

As a historical writer, I've used the word betrothal plenty of times, since it was more common than engagement throughout much of history. But I've never actually paused to look up the root of the word! It makes total sense though, as I'm sure you'll agree. Betrothal...

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