The Origins of 12 Silly-Sounding Compound Words

iStock.com/Kontrec
iStock.com/Kontrec

Some compound words make perfect sense. Bedbugs? They’re bugs that live on your bed (among other places). Railroad? It’s a road constructed from rails. Waterfall? It’s where the water ... falls. The list goes on: afternoon, earthquake, popcorn, graveyard, airport—all of these words just work.

Other compound words … not so much. A nightmare is not a nocturnal horse. An earmark is not some kind of head tattoo. And who in the world knows what a hodgepodge is? We consulted the holy book of English etymology—the Oxford English Dictionary (OED)—to get some answers.

1. HOPSCOTCH

The game has nothing to do with little kids skipping over glasses of Johnnie Walker. Back in the 17th century, the word scotch could be used to describe a gash, score, or line. While that usage is now obsolete, it was preserved in the children’s game—when you play hopscotch, you’re literally hopping over scotches.

2. COBWEB

The word sounds less corny when you consider that, in the original Middle English, it was spelled coppeweb—and that back in the 14th century, coppe or cop was a synonym for “spider.” (In fact, the etymon cob wouldn’t be associated with corn for another 300 or 400 years.)

3. KIDNAP

Kidnap is a relic of an old spelling battle (and has nothing to do with child abductors taking a snooze). Back in the 17th century, both nab and nap meant “to snatch or seize” something. Nab eventually won the semantic battle—but the old spelling remains ossified here.

4. SCAPEGOAT

According to Leviticus, two goats were chosen on the Day of Atonement: One was sacrificed, and the second was symbolically burdened with the people’s sins and sent into the wilderness. In the 1300s, scape meant “escape.” Thus, an individual who assumes blame on behalf of the many is like the symbolic “escaped goat.”

5. DOUGHNUT

According to the OED, starting in the 1770s, the word nut could be used to describe “a small rounded biscuit or cake.” In fact, the first “doughnuts” didn’t resemble the circles of fried goodness we know today. They resembled little balls—what would today be called a “doughnut hole.”

6. WEDLOCK

The word has nothing to do with “locking” couples together. Rather, wedlock is a fascinating relic of Old English. Centuries ago, many words ended with the suffix -lāc, which helped denote an action or state of being. (For example, the word brewing—that is, the “state of being brewed”—used to be spelled brēowlāc). Similarly, in the 12th-century the word wedlāc or wedlayk denoted the “the state of being wed.”

7. HONEYMOON

In the 16th century, honeymoon had nothing to do with a post-marriage vacation—rather, it simply denoted the first month of marriage. At the time, honey was commonly used to mean “sweetheart” and moon could be used to describe the passage of time, usually a month. In other words, honeymoon literally meant “sweetheart’s month.” (Though the OED offers more cynical alternative explanations, suggesting that new love waned like the moon, or lasted no longer than a month.)

8. HODGEPODGE

If you don’t know what a hodge or podge is, join the club: The word is a corruption of the 15th century word hotchpotch, which itself is a corruption of hotchpot, hochepoche, or hotpotch. In Anglo-Norman, a hochepot was a blended stew of minced beef or goose and veggies.

9. EARMARK

Today we typically use earmark to denote money that’s been set aside for a particular purpose, but back in the early 1500s, earmark was far more literal: Farmers would mark the ears of their sheep as proof of ownership. Over the following two centuries, the meaning of earmarking would broaden to denote the act of “[marking out or designating] for a particular role, purpose, or fate.”

10. EGGPLANT

In the 1760s, the word egg-plant made far more sense, because it was used to describe a white-fruited type of tomato, or Solanum esculentum, that resembled ... an egg. About a century later, the word began applying to the purple-fruited (and not-so-eggy) aubergine.

11. HOGWASH

In the late 1500s, the word wash—derived from the German wäsch—was also used to denote a type of kitchen or brewery swill that no human dared to drink. (Hogwash, specifically, was a swill so bad that it would be thrown out for the swine.) Eventually, the word for this rotten, pig-quality hootch took on a more colorful meaning to denote rotten, pig-quality ideas.

12. PIECEMEAL

The meal in piecemeal has nothing to do with eating lunch; it’s an obsolete suffix. Back in the 14th century (and earlier), the suffix mele, mǣl, or mǣlum was used to denote a “measure or quantity taken at one time,” according to the OED. Gēarmǣlum meant “year by year,” stæpmǣlum meant “step by step,” and pecemele meant—and still means—“piece by piece.”

Amazon's Under-the-Radar Coupon Page Features Deals on Home Goods, Electronics, and Groceries

Stock Catalog, Flickr // CC BY 2.0
Stock Catalog, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

Now that Prime Day is over, and with Black Friday and Cyber Monday still a few weeks away, online deals may seem harder to come by. And while it can be a hassle to scour the internet for promo codes, buy-one-get-one deals, and flash sales, Amazon actually has an extensive coupon page you might not know about that features deals to look through every day.

As pointed out by People, the coupon page breaks deals down by categories, like electronics, home & kitchen, and groceries (the coupons even work with SNAP benefits). Since most of the deals revolve around the essentials, it's easy to stock up on items like Cottonelle toilet paper, Tide Pods, Cascade dishwasher detergent, and a 50 pack of surgical masks whenever you're running low.

But the low prices don't just stop at necessities. If you’re looking for the best deal on headphones, all you have to do is go to the electronics coupon page and it will bring up a deal on these COWIN E7 PRO noise-canceling headphones, which are now $80, thanks to a $10 coupon you could have missed.

Alternatively, if you are looking for deals on specific brands, you can search for their coupons from the page. So if you've had your eye on the Homall S-Racer gaming chair, you’ll find there's currently a coupon that saves you 5 percent, thanks to a simple search.

To discover all the deals you have been missing out on, head over to the Amazon Coupons page.

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11 Thoughtful Gifts For Word Lovers

iStock.com/Jelena Danilovic
iStock.com/Jelena Danilovic

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

It’s easy to spot the logophiles in your life: They’re the people who are addicted to word games, have full libraries at home, or who are always quick to provide you with the word that’s on the tip of your tongue. This holiday season, indulge your loved one’s passion for words with a gift they’ll appreciate.

1. Book Couch; $25

Gifts for Readers & Writers Store/Amazon

The better the book, the more exhausting it is to hold up. Give a rabid reader’s tired arms a rest with the Book Couch, a plush lap rest that props up books, e-readers, and tablets so they can gorge on words with minimal effort. It’s available in blue, grey, red, diner booth, and hot lips.

Buy it: Amazon

2. Moleskine’s Book Journal

Moleskine

The new year is a great opportunity to start a book journal. This one from Moleskine is specifically designed for documenting someone’s reading history, with sections for recording general information about the title as well as jotting down impressions and memorable quotes. Like other Moleskine products, this notebook comes with useful features like ribbon bookmarks and an expandable inner pocket.

Buy it: Amazon

3. Shakespearean Insults Chart; $25

Uncommon Goods

Give this chart to someone you know and instantly add color to their insult arsenal. The poster not only list dozens of scathing jabs from the works of Shakespeare, but it also breaks them down into categories like “body qualities” and “personal attributes” and subcategories like “knaves” and “dunghills.” The chart measures 24 by 18 inches and comes with a magnetic birch frame for an extra $30.

Buy it: Uncommon Goods

4. KenzaPad; $60

Scott MacMillan, Kickstarter

Smartphones are convenient for taking notes on the go, but it’s hard to beat the tactile sensation of jotting down a thought with a pen and paper. The KenzaPad combines the best elements from both mediums into one handy tool. The pad looks and acts like a wallet on the outside, with pockets for holding keys, cards, and pens. Flip open the magnetic seal and it transforms into a notepad you can hold with one hand and write in with the other. And no thicker than a smartphone, the KenzaPad neatly slips into a purse or pocket.

Buy it: Amazon

5. Book Darts; $9

Amazon

Book darts give book lovers ultimate control over their reading experience. Instead of putting down a book mid-paragraph, or rushing to the next page before adding a bookmark, these tools let readers save their place down to the line. With 50 metal tabs per package, they’re also a great, reusable alternative to highlighters or sticky notes.

Buy it: Amazon

6. Flexilight Xtra Booklight; $9

Flexilight/Amazon

Got a young reader to buy for? Grab one of the Flexilight Xtra booklights. Unlike most booklights, this LED-powered light is flexible enough to conform to most any book and comes in fun designs like penguins, dogs, and owls for kid word buffs. It’s also thin enough to double as a bookmark.

Buy it: Amazon

7. Novel Teas; $14

Bag Ladies Tea/Amazon

Few things go better together than a good book and a cup of tea. Now readers can elevate their cozy book appointments with Novel Teas, a set of 25 individually-wrapped teabags that each have literary quotes on them. The product also has one of the great slogans in advertising history: “Read ‘em and steep.”

Buy it: Amazon

8. William Shakespeare Engraved Inspirational Quote Pen; $20

Inkstone/Amazon

Keep the wisdom of the Bard close at hand with this engraved pen sporting the classic Shakespeare line: “To thine own self be true.” The ballpoint pen is compatible with G2 ink refills.

Buy it: Amazon

9. Other-Wordly; $13

Chronicle Books/Amazon

Take a trip through an assortment of arcane and delightful words in this sumptuous book by Yee-Lum Mak and illustrator Kelsey Garrity-Riley. Discover words in multiple languages that express all things beautiful.

Buy it: Amazon

10. Retro Series Scrabble; $20

Amazon

Scrabble has been updated several times since its debut, but the original edition remains a classic. This Retro Series-edition of Scrabble is the same version of the game that appeared on shelves in 1949, complete with vintage wood tiles and racks. Whether or not the players stick to words that were dictionary-official 70 years ago is up to them.

Buy it: at Amazon

11. Punderdome: A Card Game for Pun Lovers; $14

Clarkson Potter/Amazon

No true word lover can resist a good pun. Punderdome makes a game out of wordplay, tasking players with taking two prompts from the deck and making one terrific (i.e. awful) pun out of them. You can even play virtually for socially-distanced game nights.

Buy it: Amazon

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