Like most writers, I love words. I love learning about words: how they’re spelled, how they’re pronounced, what they mean and most of all, where they come from.
One of my favorite reference books is the Dictionary of Word Origins written by Joseph T. Shipley and published by the Philosophical Library in 1945. It is perhaps not the most practical book of its type for a writer of contemporary fiction, as it doesn't have words that originated in the past 60 years, and it does have some words that are not in use anymore or whose meanings have since changed. Still, I love to leaf through it and read Shipley's notes.
Here are a few cool entries (though, yes, at the time, “cool” just meant “chilly”). See if you can guess at the origins:
“Cereal” is taken from the name of the daughter of Saturn and Vesta. Ceres was the goddess of the harvest.
“Fiasco” is related to the word “flask.” When Venetian glassmakers messed up on one of their masterpieces, they would put the flawed glass aside to use to make bottles, or far fiasco. Fiasco came to represent failure.
“Muscle” is taken from the word musculum, which is the Latin diminutive of the word mus, which means … mouse! Apparently to the Romans, rippling muscles brought to mind little mice running around beneath the skin. Eww.
Do you know of any interesting word origins? Any you’d like me to look up for you? (I’ll be happy to!)