Welcome to Wordorigins.org

Wordorigins.org is devoted to the origins of words and phrases, or as a linguist would put it, to etymology. Etymology is the study of word origins. (It is not the study of insects; that is entomology.) Where words come from is a fascinating subject, full of folklore and historical lessons. Often, popular tales of a word’s origin arise. Sometimes these are true; more often they are not. While it can be disappointing when a neat little tale turns out to be untrue, almost invariably the true origin is just as interesting.

D-Day, H-Hour

D-Day is the name for 6 June 1944, when Allied troops landed on the coast of German-occupied France during World War II. It was the largest seaborne invasion in history, with over 150,000 American, British, and Canadian troops landing in Normandy, including 23,000 airborne paratroopers, and involving almost 7,000 ships, boats, and landing craft. But it turns out that the term itself is older, dating to another war, and it is also something of a redundancy.

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H-Hour, D-Day

See D-Day, H-Hour

Saracen

Saracen is term for a Muslim that is primarily used historically to refer to Muslims during the medieval period and especially in reference to the Crusades. But it dates to antiquity, long before Islam arose as a religion, and its original sense was much more circumscribed. Its correct etymology isn’t all that interesting, but it does have a fascinating false etymology that circulated widely in Europe during the medieval period.

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Mecca

Mecca is a place name, a toponym, that has acquired a figurative meaning over the years. Literally, it is a city in Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of the prophet Muhammad, to which devout Muslims are required to undertake a pilgrimage to at some point in their lives. Figuratively, it is used to refer to any place that attracts a certain group of people or that is the center of their activity, as in, Las Vegas is a Mecca for gamblers or the new mall is a mecca for shoppers. The pilgrimage metaphor underlying the figurative sense is obvious, but when did the sense develop?

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Judeo-Christian

Judeo-Christian has two main meanings. The first is a historical one, referring to the early Christian church made up of converted Jews, primarily in Jerusalem, in contrast to the Pauline churches made up of Gentiles that were scattered across the eastern Mediterranean. The second, and today more common, meaning refers to the common ethical and cultural values of Judaism and Christianity. This second meaning originally grew out of desire for inclusivity, but the term Judeo-Christian is now increasingly used to exclude other religions.

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Middle Ages / medieval

The Middle Ages, or medieval period, runs from roughly 500–1500 C. E., that is more or less from the fall of Rome to the Renaissance and the start of the modern era—a rather Eurocentric periodization.  Of course, the people of the era didn’t call themselves medieval or say they were living in the Middle Ages. Towards the end of the period, they would have called themselves modern, a word that is in use by 1456 in English and a century earlier in French. So when did these two terms come into use? And, while Middle Ages is a pretty obvious term for a period between two others, where did medieval come from? 

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medieval / Middle Ages

See Middle Ages.

deplatform

The verb deplatform is rather new. It’s not yet in the major dictionaries, so I’ll attempt a definition:

To disinvite a speaker from an event or to remove a user a from a social media platform due to their use of hate speech, engaging in harassment, or violation of the platform’s rules.

The earliest use of the term that I’ve been able to find is in a discussion of a video game that allows users to hit fascist protesters with a purse.

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Calvinball

Calvinball is the name of a fictional sport coined by cartoonist Bill Watterston in his syndicated comic strip Calvin and Hobbes. In the strip, Calvinball is sport where the participants make up the rules as they go along. But the word has not remained within the confines of the comic and is now being used in other contexts where the “rules” are constantly changing.

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