7 Word Origins That Might Surprise You

Deep summer is when laziness finds respectability. ~Sam Keen, author & philosopher I don't want to say I'm lazy, but I do want to take my foot off the gas a bit as we cruise through the summer. Instead of one of my normal "nose-to-the-grindstone" posts, I thought I'd be a bit more playful this month. And what would be more appropriate for a writer to play with than…words.

So today I'll take a look at a few words that we use on a daily basis and discuss their origin - which might be different than you think.


This is an easy one, right? We all know this grew out of the invitations we send each other on Facebook. When you accept, you've been "friended."

Not so fast.

The word "friended" was actually created a few years before Mr. Zuckerberg came on the scene - like 400 years before. The source: none other than the Bard himself, William Shakespeare.

He actually used it in several plays including this passage from Cymbeline:

"Frame yourself to orderly solicits, and be friended with aptness of the season."


Some incorrectly claim this is an acronym for "portable open database." But according to multiple sources, as related in this article in Wired News, iPod is not an acronym. It's a name coined by a copywriter (yea!) named Vinnie Chieco.

The story goes that in discussing the new player, Apple founder Steve Jobs continually referenced Apple's digital hub strategy. The Mac was the hub for the other devices that could connect to it. Chieco then began thinking of the Mac as a spaceship and visualized a smaller connecting vessel as a "pod."  When Chieco first saw a white, plastic prototype iPod, he immediately thought of the famous line from the movie 2001, A Space Odyssey: "Open the pod bay doors, Hal!"

Supposedly the "i" prefix has a double meaning - both "internet," as in "iMac," or the first person: "I," as in me.


As in having no money. This appears to have originated in the 1700's in the banking industry. Customers who had good credit would be issued porcelain tiles - much like today's credit cards - which would list the borrower's name and available credit. The borrower would have to present the tile every time upon every withdrawal. If the credit limit was exceeded, the bank teller would "break" the tile immediately.


This one comes from the Middle Ages when most huts had stone or dirt floors. People would scatter threshing - pieces of grain or hay - to warm the floor and make it less slippery. As people walked about the room they would shift the threshing around and ultimately push it out the door. A piece of wood or stone was then placed at the entrance to the house to "hold the thresh" in the room.


The French gave us this one. Literally from the french couvrir feu meaning to "cover the fire." Ironically, that's exactly the opposite of what we baby boomers understood when our edict was to come in when the streetlight CAME ON.


We have the Celts to thank for this one. It's a combination of two Celtic words: "slough" which means "battle" and "gheun" which means "cry."


Finally, what would a post on words from a copywriter be without examining the word "write."

The base origin is from the Old English writan "to score, outline, draw the figure of" and from the Proto-Germanic writanan meaning to tear, scratch." Other sources include the Old Saxon writan "to tear, scratch, write," the Old Norse rita "write, scratch, outline" and the Old High German rizan "to write, scratch, tear."

Scratching and tearing? That sounds about right to anyone who's sat in front of a blank piece of paper or computer screen and begged for the words to come. Usually the process involves scratching your head and tearing out your hair.

That's it for now. You'll excuse me so I can go back to "scratching" out a living.

Photo Credit: Steve A Johnson via Compfight cc