The Fascinating Origin Stories and Etymologies Behind 70 Common Words
The next time you describe a Black Friday sale as pandemonium, tip your hat to poet John Milton. He coined the word for the capital city of Hell in Paradise Lost, using the Greek prefix pan- (meaning "all”), and the Latin word daemonium, or “evil spirit.”
On this episode of The List Show, Mental Floss editor-in-chief Erin McCarthy is traveling to Hell and back again to unearth the interesting origins and etymologies of 70 English words, from vaccine to nimrod. Some were named for specific people—we get boycott, for example, from ill-fated British land agent Charles Boycott—while others were passed down from ancient languages like Latin. But just because a word has an easily traceable ancestry doesn’t mean its life has been boring. Take nice, whose Latin equivalent, nescius, didn’t mean “nice” at all: It meant “ignorant.” Nice went through several transformations before it landed on its modern-day definition.
Press play below to hear the full story of nice and 69 other words.
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