Word of the Week

Word history and etymology

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,...
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....
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...
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,...

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 – 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....

read more
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...

read more
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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Word of the Week – Journal

Word of the Week – Journal

I admit it--I'm a little bit obsessed with anything that belongs on a desk. Notebooks, pens, journals, even paperclips and staplers make me grin. When I walk into an office supply store, it takes great restraint to look only for what I need and not every pretty shade...

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Word of the Week Revisit – Fall, Autumn, and Harvest

Word of the Week Revisit – Fall, Autumn, and Harvest

Original post published October 23, 2017 Saturday as the kids and I were driving Rowyn to a birthday party, they were observing that it was way too warm for fall, and all the trees were still green . . . and XoĂ« then said, “I don’t like that we call it fall. It should...

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Word of the Week – Legend

Word of the Week – Legend

Legend. We all know what the word means...and my character Bram spends a lot of time in Worthy of Legend pondering what really makes someone worthy to be called a hero, worthy to have stories written and sung and remembered about him or her. But have you ever paused...

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Word of the Week – School

Word of the Week – School

Today is Labor Day in the US, which is the unofficial start of autumn. Specifically, it marks the beginning of a new school year for American kids (many of whom have already been back to school for a couple weeks). What better time to examine the history of the word?...

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Word of the Week – Cat

Word of the Week – Cat

Sometimes it's fun to look up words so very common that one never really pauses to think about them. You never know what you're going to find! So as one of my cats stared at me as I was contemplating this week's Word of the Week, I chuckled and said, "Okay, sure, why...

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Word of the Week – Desk

Word of the Week – Desk

As of the moment when I'm writing this, we're awaiting a few fun deliveries at our house--a new bed frame and desk for Rowyn, who has been asking for about a year to update his room. We decided that starting high school was a pretty good time to get rid of the...

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Word of the Week – Siren

Word of the Week – Siren

Anyone who has read The Odyssey has "met" the original Sirens ... the mythological creatures in Greek history who lure sailors to their destruction on rocks with their sweet singing. But I daresay most of us haven't looked too closely at the word. The Greek seirenes...

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Word of the Week – August

Word of the Week – August

I learned way back in my school days that two of our summer months are named for Roman emperors--July (for Julius Caesar) and August (for Augustus Caesar). I imagine you knew that too. Similarly, you probably know that august as an adjective means "solemnly grand,...

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Word of the Week – Cult and Culture

Word of the Week – Cult and Culture

A week or two ago, that familiar chime of "Word of the Week!" sang out through the house. I looked up--ever eager for a new word to add to the list--and said, "Oo! What?" My husband replied with, "Cult and culture. They're clearly related, but I'd never stopped to...

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Word of the Week -Popsicle

Word of the Week -Popsicle

Revisiting this delicious word today. Originally published August 27, 2018. The heat of summer is fully upon us, and we all know nothing tastes as good on those hot summer days as cool treats. Ice cream, Popsicles, frozen coffees and yogurts and you-name-it. My...

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Word of the Week – Cappuccino

Word of the Week – Cappuccino

Cappuccino. The mere word conjures up images of beautiful coffee, and the mere thought gets my tastebuds dancing. I am a coffee lover, so all kinds of coffee earn this reaction. Latte, mocha...mmm. Yep. I've always loved cappuccinos too, since I was a kid, even before...

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Word of the Week – Trivia

Word of the Week – Trivia

Do you know where the word trivia comes from? If not, it's definitely a fun bit of trivia that you'll want to know! (LOL--couldn't resist!) The official meaning of trivia is "bits of information of little consequence." It became a common word in 1932 but has been...

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Word of the Week – Yankee

Word of the Week – Yankee

Happy Independence Day, to all my American readers! I hope everyone has a day of fun planned. =) In honor of the day, I thought I'd revisit a Word of the Week post that I first published in 2015...but I had totally forgotten ever looking this one up, so I figure some...

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Word of the Week – Inspire

Word of the Week – Inspire

Inspire. We all know what it means, and we all love things that do it, right? Things that fill the heart and mind...things that prompt us to do something. The word has been around in English since the mid-1300s, and it came to us via the French enspirer, which in turn...

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The History of the Alphabet

The History of the Alphabet

Introduction My WORD OF THE WEEK posts have been bringing you word histories and etymologies for well over a decade. I always love it when a reader sends me a note asking me to look into a new word that they'd been wondering about. In my house, we've all trained...

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Word of the Week – Alphabet and ABC

Word of the Week – Alphabet and ABC

Here on the blog, we examine a lot of word histories and etymologies. But have you ever paused to wonder about the letters that make them up? One reader asked me to look into the history of the alphabet itself...which is quite a thing! Of course, I figured the place...

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Word of the Week – Radical

Word of the Week – Radical

Radical. Generally, when we hear this word today, it's being used to describe political or other views and positions. It means, in that sense, "extreme." And because it's used like that so often, we tend to think of it that way still when we hear phrases like "radical...

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Word of the Week – Fire

Word of the Week – Fire

Fire. This one ranks as a word used often and well known. So why, you wonder, would I look into the etymology and history? Largely because there are so many interesting ways to use it, both as a noun, and a verb, that have cropped up over the years! I thought today...

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Word of the Week – Rhododendron

Word of the Week – Rhododendron

During our Greek time a little while ago, my daughter and I translated a passage in Matthew that involved the word "tree." Or, as it would sound in Greek, dendron. Of course, as we're reading these words out loud, one of our primary interests--being word nerds as we...

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Word of the Week – Tongue-in-Cheek

Word of the Week – Tongue-in-Cheek

Have you ever wondered about the meaning of tongue-in-cheek ... and perhaps where this bizarre phrase came from? Well, it dates from 1856 in that hyphenated version, taken from the less-succinct phrase "to speak with one's tongue in one's cheek," which comes from...

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Word of the Week – Arctic and Antarctic

Word of the Week – Arctic and Antarctic

A couple weeks ago, I had a message from a reader asking me to do a feature on arctic and antarctic, because he heard they meant "near the bear" and "away from the bear" and thought, "Nah, that can't be right!" I love that I'm the word nerd that people turn to for...

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Word of the Week – Tedious

Word of the Week – Tedious

You probably know the definition of tedious: "tiresome because of length or dullness : boring." But the etymology of tedious is actually a bit more interesting and made me snort-laugh when I saw it. Tedious and tedium are from the Late Latin taediosus and taedium...

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Word of the Week – Minute

Word of the Week – Minute

Last week I took a look at the uses of second ... which led me straight to minute. I did mention in that post that the divisions of time were once "prime minute" and "second minute" ... well, along the way, "prime minute" got shortened to minute and "second minute" to...

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Word of the Week – Second

Word of the Week – Second

The other day as my daughter and I were watching her pre-cal lesson, the presenter (talking about the velocity of falling objects) said, "Now, in the second second, the object will be moving at..." Xoe looked over at me and said, "Why is it called that, anyway? Why is...

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Word of the Week – Reveal

Word of the Week – Reveal

We all know what reveal and revelation mean, of course...and they have been in the English language for a LONG time. Like, since the early 1400s. The meaning has never really changed either--it's always been "to disclose, to divulge, to make known." What's interesting...

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Word of the Week – Thesaurus

Word of the Week – Thesaurus

Today's word comes courtesy of the reading my daughter and I have been doing in our Greek New Testament. We came across the word for treasure (thesauros), we both went, "Hey! That sounds like 'thesaurus'!" To which I of course said, "Well, maybe we use it as 'a...

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