You’ll Never Guess Where These Popular Words Originated
The history of these words may surprise you.
You may have Winston Churchill to thank for the beloved acronym “OMG.”
For Merriam-Webster lexicographer Kory Stamper, recording the etymologies of words is just one part of the job. In her new book, Word by Word: The Secret Life of Dictionaries, she offers a few of her favorites. Here, our favorites:
Feeling salty about your salary? There might be a reason why.
“Why do we say that someone’s ‘worth their salt?’” Stamper writes. “Because in the ancient world salt was such a valuable commodity that we used to pay people in it (and this is why you also get a salary).”
You’ll never look at a loaf of pumpernickel the same, either.
“Who thought that ‘pumpernickel’ was a good name for a dark rye bread?” Stamper asks. “Because when you trace the word back to its German origins, you find it means ‘fart goblin.’”
And OMG celebrates its 100th birthday this year. “‘OMG’ goes back to 1917, when it was first used in a letter to Winston Churchill,” Stamper says.
Another word Stamper finds fascinating? Trivial. “‘Trivial, of course, refers to small things and it’s related to ‘trivia,’ which refers to little snippets of knowledge,” she tells Real Simple. "‘Trivial’ refers to things that are of little importance, unimportant. It also refers to thing that are commonplace or ordinary and it comes from this Latin noun that means ‘crossroads,’ which was formed by ‘tri’ (three) and ‘via’ (road or way). Back in Roman times, if you were at a major crossroad, that’s where you would have any kind of town center. You wouldn’t have it out in the middle of nowhere. So ‘trivia’ comes from a Latin word that means ‘three roads.’”
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Find more interesting etymologies like these in Stamper's book Word by Word: The Secret Life of Dictionaries.