10 Body Parts Hiding in the Dictionary

psphotogoraph/iStock via Getty Images
psphotogoraph/iStock via Getty Images

If a person capitulates, then they surrender, or cede to another’s opinion. But originally—and, one finds with a bit of etymological digging, quite literally—a capitulation was an agreement drawn up under chapters or headings, and in that sense the word traces its way back to caput, a Latin word meaning head. A chapter, for that matter, means a "little head."

But chapter and capitulate aren’t the only "head" words in the dictionary (so to speak). A capital city refers to a head city. A captain is one who stands at the head of others. If something capsizes, then it sinks head first. Precipices take their name from a Latin word meaning headlong or headfirst. And even though the biceps and triceps muscles might be in the arm, they actually mean two- and three-headed.

And if that last one sounds confusing, there’s a whole jumble of other body parts in the dictionary.

1. Genuine

The word genuine originally referred to things that were natural or innate, rather than acquired or added later. In that sense, one explanation claims that it derives from gignere, a Latin verb meaning to birth or to beget, but a more imaginative (and no less likely) theory is that the word actually comes from genu, the Latin word for knee. According to this theory, a father would acknowledge the paternity of his genuine offspring by placing his child on his knee, and from there, the use of the word to mean authentic or real emerged.

2. Hypochondriac

The hypochondrium is a region of the upper abdomen lying below (hypo) the cartilage of the ribs and breastbone (chondros). Problems affecting the visceral organs inside the hypochondrium—the liver, the gall bladder and the spleen, among others—were once said to cause melancholic feelings or ill health, and ultimately the entire hypochondriac region gave its name to a morbid obsession with ill health.

3. Date

The date you write at the top of a letter comes from the same root as data, and derives from a Latin word meaning "given"—the idea being that a letter would be dated when it was given over to be delivered. The date that you eat, however, is entirely unrelated: Its name comes, via French and Latin, from the Greek word for finger, daktylos, because the date palm’s fruits or leaves are supposedly shaped like human fingers.

4. Gargoyle

There’s a reason why gargoyles are hideous figures with their mouths open: They take their name from the Old French word for throat, gargoule, and their open mouths are used to channel rainwater away from the main structure of a building.

5. Hysteria

The hysterical symptoms or hysterics of someone suffering from hysteria were once wrongly believed to be unique to women. As a result, they were blamed on disorders or imbalances of the uterus. The word hysteria and all its derivatives come from the Greek word for the womb, hystera. Incidentally, the use of hysterical to describe something that sends you into uncontrollable fits of laughter emerged in the mid-1900s.

6. Recalcitrant

If you’re recalcitrant, then you’re extremely obstinate or uncooperative. The adjective derives from an earlier verb, recalcitrate or calcitrate, which originally meant "to kick out angrily," like a stubborn or uncooperative horse—and in that sense the word derives from calx, the Latin name for the heel.

7. Glossary

A glossary is literally a collection of glosses, short annotations or explanatory comments that were once written along or between lines of text to clarify or translate their contents. These glosses take their name, via Latin, from the Greek word glossa, meaning language or tongue.

8. Supercilious

Anatomically, the supercilium is the region of the forehead containing the eyebrows. And because inquisitive eyebrow-raising has been associated with haughty, condescending people, the adjective supercilious came to describe people and behavior precisely like that.

9. Handsome

It may seem obvious, but the term handsome derives from the word hand. Less obvious is precisely why a word meaning good-looking should have anything to do with the hands rather than the face. In fact, when it first appeared in the language in the 15th century, handsome meant "close at hand," or "easy to handle," and from there the word gained all manner of positive connotations, including "entirely fitting or appropriate," generous, magnanimous, courageous, skillful, and eventually—by the mid-1500s—stylish, elegant, and good-looking.

10. Chiropodist

And lastly, two for the price of one: We might use this word to refer to a foot specialist or podiatrist today, but a chiropodist was originally someone who treated disorders of both the hands and the feet. As a result, the word combines the Greek words for hand, kheir, and foot, pous.

This list first appeared in 2017 and was republished in 2019.

15 Totally Tubular '80s Slang Terms

luckyvector (speech bubble), Andrii Vinnikov (background)/iStock via Getty Images Plus
luckyvector (speech bubble), Andrii Vinnikov (background)/iStock via Getty Images Plus

The '80s were a time when everything was bigger and brighter: Hair was high; fashion was loud; even the slang was outrageous … or should we say, bodacious? Here are a few ‘80s slang terms—which were popular in the era, even if they weren’t created during the decade—that you should start working back into conversations. Throw on some leg warmers, grab your favorite scrunchie, and let’s motor!

1. Bodacious

According to Green’s Dictionary of Slang, this word—a blend of bold and audacious meaning “excellent, wonderful, very enjoyable”—was coined in the 19th century but found new life in the 1970s thanks to CB radio, where it was used to reference a strong incoming signal. In 1989, it was featured heavily in Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure; you can see a short clip of Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter discussing the word here.

2. Hella

According to Green’s, this adverb can mean either “a lot of” or “very, extremely, really,” and it’s an abbreviation of helluva, as in, “he had one helluva headache.”

3. Gnarly

It’s probably not a surprise that gnarly comes from gnarled. According to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), the word originated in the 1970s as a surfing term meaning “dangerous, challenging,” perhaps in reference to rough seas. Green’s notes that gnarly can be a term of disapproval, meaning “bizarre, frightening, amazing,” or, conversely, it can be used to describe something that is “wonderful, first-rate.” It was popularized by Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982).

4. Duh

This word, also frequently used in the phrase “no duh,” is, according to Green’s, a “grunt of incomprehension ... often used as a rejoinder, implying that the first speaker is stupid.” The OED’s first citation is a 1943 Merrie Melodies cartoon: “Duh ... Well, he can't outsmart me, 'cause I'm a moron.” In 1964, The New York Times Magazine noted that the word “is the standard retort used when someone makes a conversational contribution bordering on the banal. For example, the first child says, ‘The Russians were first in space.’ Unimpressed, the second child replies (or rather grunts), ‘Duh.'"

5. Tubular

Tubular, from the Latin tubulus and the French tubulair, began its life in the 1680s as a word meaning “having the form of a tube or pipe; constituting or consisting of a tube; cylindrical, hollow, and open at one or both ends; tube-shaped.” But in the '80s, it took on a new meaning entirely—this one related to waves. According to the OED, surfers in the U.S. used it to refer to “a cresting wave: hollow and curved, so that it is well-formed for riding on,” and soon, it came to mean “the ultimate in perfection,” according to Green’s. The word (as well as many others on this list) was featured in Frank Zappa’s 1982 song “Valley Girl”: “It’s so AWESOME / It’s like TUBULAR, y’know.”

6. Eat My Shorts

That’s shorts as in underwear. This phrase dates back to the early 1970s (Green’s cites a 1975 issue of the Harvard Crimson: “They chant cheers as [...] unrefined as ‘A quart is two pints, a gallon is four quarts; Harvard men will eat Yale’s shorts’”) but you might remember it from John Hughes’s 1985 film The Breakfast Club. Later, it would be used liberally by Bart on The Simpsons.

7. Gag Me With A Spoon

This expression of disgust, dating back to 1982, apparently had other forms as well: Gag me with a blowdryer, a snow shovel, a phone book (remember those?!).

8. Radical

This adjective, meaning “extreme; outrageous; good,” originated in the late 1960s. Radical is another term borrowed from surfer slang, according to the New Partridge Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English, after which it “migrated into the argot of the San Fernando Valley”—a.k.a. Valley Girls—“and then into mainstream U.S. youth slang.” In 1988, it even appeared in Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses. Green’s pinpoints the “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles craze” of the 1990s for bringing radical to the masses. Rad, a shortened version of the word, was also a popular way to describe something you really loved (as well as the title of a 1986 BMX movie starring Lori Loughlin and Talia Shire).

9. Take a Chill Pill

When you tell someone to take a chill pill, you’re telling them to relax. According to Green’s, the phrase originated on college campuses in the early '80s.

10. Wastoid

According to The New Partridge Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English, someone who is a wastoid is “a worthless, dim-witted person; a person whose drug and alcohol abuse is ruining their life.” The term was coined by John Hughes, who used it in The Breakfast Club: Listen for when Andrew tells Bender, “Yo wastoid, you’re not going to blaze up in here.”

11. Ralph

Apparently, in the ‘80s, instead of just ralphing—i.e., vomiting, because supposedly that’s what the act of retching sounds like—college kids would call for Ralph, according to Green’s. The verb ralph dates back to the 1960s, and you can once again find it in The Breakfast Club: “Your middle name is Ralph, as in puke.”

12. Bod

Bod dates all the way back to the ‘80s—the 1780s, according to the OED. A clipped form of body, it also refers more generally to a person, and may be a shortened form of bodach, a Scottish word for a specter. On college campuses in the 1960s, it came to mean “a physically attractive person of the opposite sex.” And when a girl asks Ferris “How’s your bod?” in 1986’s Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, what she’s actually asking is: How are you feeling?

13. Grody

Initially written in the mid-1960s as “groaty,” this term basically describes something that is slovenly, dirty, or super gross. If something is truly terrible, you might describe it as grody to the max. As the Los Angeles Times wrote in 1982, “Grody is used to describe a disgusting object. Moon Zappa calls her toenails ‘Grody to the max,' which means disgusting beyond belief.”

14. Motor

A verb meaning “to move quickly, to leave.” Curious about how to use it in a sentence? Look no further than this quote from the 1988 movie Heathers: “Great paté, but I gotta motor if I want to be ready for that party tonight.”

15. Veg

To veg or veg out, according to the OED, is to “To disengage mentally; to do nothing as a way of relaxing, to pass the time in (mindless) inactivity, esp. by watching television.” The OED dates the term, an abbreviation of the word vegetate, to a Toronto Globe and Mail article from 1979 that declared, “There's not the same flavor there used to be to traveling ... People just go to veg out, not to find out.” The past tense of the word can be found in The Totally True Diaries of an Eighties Roller Queen, which featured real diary entries from between 1983 and 1988: “Today I went to Tracey’s to pick up my guitar and stuff [...] I then went home and vegged out.”

The One Letter in the Alphabet That Can't Be Silent

Hafiez Razali, iStock via Getty Images
Hafiez Razali, iStock via Getty Images

The English language can be baffling at times—just look to words like phlegm, receipt, and chthonic for proof. Silent letters are unavoidable. Almost every word in the alphabet is occasionally guilty of taking up space without contributing anything, but there is one exception. According to Merriam-Webster, V is the only letter in English that consistently makes itself heard.

No matter where it appears, whether it's in love, voice, or divisive, V plays a vital role. Most letters are phonetic chameleons: That's why the C sounds different in cat and city, and why the g sounds like nothing at all in gnash. V is unique in that it never goes through an identity crisis.

There are a few letters that rival V's special status. Z is only silent in words we borrowed from the French, like chez, laissez-faire, and rendezvous. The one silent J in the entire English language appears in marijuana, a term of Spanish origin. But even accounting for words we've adopted from other tongues, there's not one example of a silent V in the English dictionary.

The prevalence of silent letters is just one frustrating aspect of our language. Here are a few more obstacles foreign speakers must encounter when learning English.

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