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.

Who We Are

Dave Wilton

Dave Wilton has a PhD in English Literature from the University of Toronto, with a specialization in Old English language and literature. His research focus is cognitive approaches to Old English lit, and his dissertation examines how metaphors in Old English literature can explicate Anglo-Saxon ideas and conceptions of the mind, agency, and free will. Dave also has an M.A. from George Washington University in National Security Policy Studies and a B.A. from Lafayette College in Government and Law. He is also the author of Word Myths: Debunking Linguistic Urban Legends (Oxford University Press, 2004).

In past lives, Dave has worked as a marketing writer/editor and as a product manager for 3D graphics and digital television technologies at NVIDIA and OpenTV, for Science Applications International Corporation as a manager of programs that dismantled the nuclear stockpiles of the former Soviet Union, and as an arms control negotiator for the Pentagon.


Lila is the staff assistant here at Wordorigins.org. Her duties include reception and greeting of visitors, multiple daily perambulations, self-defenestration, mastication of assorted objects, and olfactory investigations.

1K Followers on Twitter

After hovering in the 990s for weeks, the number of people following wordorigins on Twitter just topped 1,000 this afternoon.

In the great scheme of things, that’s not so impressive (both Charlie Sheen and Paris Hilton have over five million followers), but I like it.

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New Registration Procedure

We’ve been having a big problem with robo-spammers on the forums. As a result, I’ve changed the procedure for registering new accounts. So if you’ve been having trouble with your account being deleted shortly after registering, please try again. This new procedure does not affect those already registered and who can successfully post to the board.

After you fill in the registration info (username, password, etc.), I will have to manually approve the registration. Please send me an email at that convinces me you are an actual human being, and I will activate your account. This “Turing test” should eliminate the robo-spammers.

You don’t need to be a registered member to read anything on this site. Everything here is open to the public. But to post comments on the forums or to blog posts you need to register. (Comments to blog posts are currently turned off, but I’ll be turning them back on once I’m convinced the spammers are under control.)

Note that I will still be monitoring new accounts and deleting those that consist of nothing but links to commercial web sites. I don’t run this site as a free advertising or search-engine-ranking-boosting service. (If you want to advertise here, you’ll have to pay me.) There is nothing wrong with participants on this site posting links to their web sites in their profiles, but just creating a profile so you can have a link to your site from this one is not cool.

S & W Slash Fiction

XKCD has done it again:

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