Category Archives: Etymology

Lost in Translation

The story goes that when French naturalist Pierre Sonnerat was in Madagascar, he pointed to a large lemur and asked the Malagasy people what it was called. They replied ‘Indri!’ and Sonnerat duly recorded the word. The name stuck and … Continue reading

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Morphine, Heroin and Grog

By the early nineteenth century, opium addiction was a minor but growing problem in the West. In 1827, the German drug company Merck began marketing a drug to treat opium addiction. The drug, derived from the opium poppy, was named … Continue reading

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Monks, Apes and Coffee

The Order of Friars Minor Capuchin, founded in 1520, was intended as a more pure following of St Francis’ teachings than that practiced by the Franciscans of the time. Monks were required to live austere lives, wear a beard and … Continue reading

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Gamut, Ampersand, Dollar, At

Gamut In a review of the play The Lake, Dorothy Parker once wrote: “Go to the Martin Beck Theatre and see Katharine Hepburn run the gamut of emotions from A to B.” Gamut, meaning a full range or scale, comes … Continue reading

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Bread and Almonds

Marzipan There are some words in the English language that have shifted repeatedly through time, geography and meaning to reach us in their present form. Marzipan may have had the most interesting journey of all. It may be a derivative … Continue reading

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