The root hyster- comes from the Greek word for womb. So, the psychological disturbance termed hysteria was originally believed to be a disease of women and resulted from some disturbance in the uterus.

The adjective hysteric appears in the mid-17th century. From Richard Tomlinson’s 1657 translation of Renodæus’ Medicinal Dispensatory:

The Plague is a poyson...which retained in Histerick women.

Hysteria first appears in 1801 in the pages of The Medical and Physical Journal:

Account of Diseases in an Eastern District of London...Chronic Diseases...Hysteria.

(Source: Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd Edition)


This word for the political campaign trail is originally Scandinavian in origin. In Scandinavian languages the word þing is used to refer to a meeting or deliberative body. Hence you have the Alþing, or Icelandic parliament. Old English adopted the word husting, literally house meeting. From the Old English Chronicle, sometime before 1030:

Hi genamon þa ðone biscop, læddon hine to hiora hustinge.
(They named then the bishop, leading the households to the husting.)

Before written ballots were adopted in Great Britain in 1872, candidates for parliament would meet with the electorate at a husting and the votes would be counted. From Thomas D’Urfey’s Wit and Mirth: Or Pills To Purge Melancholy from 1719:

What tricks on the Hustings Fanatics would play.

The word survives today in the sense of any place where a candidate meets with the electorate.

(Source: Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd Edition)


Hunky-dory means fine or splendid. It is an Americanism from the mid-19th century. Its origin, in particular the -dory part, is not known for certain, although it may have been influenced by the name of a street in Japan.

The hunky portion comes from the Dutch honk, meaning goal, objective of a game. It entered the language via Dutch settlers in New York and was preserved in the speech of New York children. By the 1840s, it had become a slang term meaning safe, secure, in a good position. From Joseph Field’s Drama In Pokerville of 1843:

Well, I allow you’re just hunk, this time, then...for we have got the sweetest roaster for dinner you ever did see.

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humble pie

The term humble pie (or alternatively umble pie) dates from the 17th century. It comes from umbles or numbles, which mean the internal organs of an animal. An umble pie was therefore originally a pie made from the organ meat of an animal. From Kenelm Digby’s The Closet of Sir K.D. Opened, written before 1648:

To season Humble-Pyes.

In the 19th century the term acquired the modern sense of submission or humility. This sense is certainly a play on the earlier sense of a meat dish coupled with the sense of humble meaning humility. From Robert Forby’s 1830 The Vocabulary of East Anglia:

“To make one eat humble pie"—i.e. To make him lower his tone, and be submissive. It may possibly be derived from the umbles of the deer, which were the perquisite of the huntsman; and if so, it should be written umble-pie, the food of inferiors.

Humble, meaning dismissive of one’s abilities, derives from the Old French umble and eventually traces back to the Latin humilem and humus (earth). From a Kentish sermon written c.1250:

Ure lord god almichti...þurch his grace maked of þo euele manne good man, of þe orgeilus umble.
(Our lord god almighty…through his grace makes of an evil man a good man, of the prideful humble.)

Umbles, the meat, comes from the Old French numbles which in turn comes from the Latin lumbus meaning loin. Its English usage dates to the 15th century. From Babees Book, c.1475:

Brawne with mustard, umblys of a dere or of a sepe.

(Source: Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd Edition)


In the latter half of the 19th century, the word huckleberry came to denote a fellow or man in American slang. It was usually used as term of affection to a friend, but could denote a foolish or incompetent person as well. Sometimes it was used to mean a person particularly well-suited to a job or task, often in phrases like I’m your huckleberry.

The sense meaning a general person or fellow dates to 1868. From the New England Base Ballist of 3 September of that year:

Now then, my huckleberry, look sharp! you’re wrong!

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Hooligan is a variant of the Irish name Houlihan or O hUallachain, and somewhere along the line some street tough of that name left it for posterity. But the specific person whom the term originally referred to has been lost to the ages. Often suggested is a Patrick Hooligan or a Hooley gang who (separately) terrorized a section of London in the 1890s. From the 26 July 1898 Daily News:

It is no wonder...that Hooligan gangs are bred in these vile, miasmatic byways.

And from 8 August:

The constable said the prisoner belonged to a gang of young roughs, calling themselves "Hooligans."

(Source: Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd Edition)


This Americanism meaning to skip school probably comes from the Dutch hoekje, a name for the game of hide and seek. It is first recorded in the late 1840s. The metaphor behind it is one of skipping school to play games.

From the Brooklyn Daily Eagle of 17 June 1842:

“When I was a child,” says the apostle, “I thought as a child,” &c., “but when I became a man, I put away childish things."—That is, if we rightly understand the language, he no longer drove the hoop, shot marbles, flyed kites, (not even after the Wall street fashion,) hunted birds’ nests, played “hookey,” and chased butterflies, with eyes nearly starting from their sockets with excitement.1

And from 5 June 1846:

A mother, perhaps, has a favorite young son, who “begs off” from school, or “plays hookey.”2

It is often suggested that it may instead come from the phrasal verb to hook it, meaning to run away or clear out. This verb is about a century older in Britain, but does not appear in the US until well after the 1840s,3 so it is unlikely to be the origin of the Americanism.

1”Public Amusements,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle (Brooklyn), 17 June 1842, 2.

2”City Intelligence,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle (Brooklyn), 5 June 1846, 2.

3Historical Dictionary of American Slang, v. 2, H-O, edited by J.E. Lighter (New York: Random House, 1997), 144.


See honky.


See honky.


See honky.

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