The Big List

A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

This is the list, some 400 word and phrase origins. The words and phrases are selected because their origins are inherently interesting or because some bit of folklore, sometimes true and sometimes false, is associated with the origin. The etymologies of common words with straightforward explanations can be found in any good dictionary and I do not attempt to reproduce them here. Many, if not most, of the words have been added as a result of questions or suggestions from readers of the site.

neptunium

nerd

Nevada

new / news

New Brunswick

New Hampshire

New Jersey

New Mexico

New York

New York minute

Newfoundland

nice

nickel

nigger

nightingale

nightmare

niobium / columbium

nitrogen

nobelium

Northwest Territories

notorious

Nova Scotia

Nunavut

occupy

off the wall

Ohio

OK / okay

Oklahoma

old army game

Ontario

opera ain’t over until the fat lady sings, the

orange

Oregon

osmium

over a barrel

oxygen

pagan

pale, beyond the

palladium

pandemonium

paparazzi

pay through the nose

peanut / peanut gallery

peloton / platoon

Pennsylvania

phat

phoney

phosphorus

piccaninny

picnic

pig

pig in a poke, buy a

pill

pipe dream

pitchblende

pizzazz

platinum

platoon

plugged nickel

plutonium, Pluto

poindexter

point blank

poker

polite

politically correct / PC

polka dot

polonaise

polonia

polonium / polonia / polony / polonaise

polony

poop deck

pork, pork barrel

port / larboard / starboard

posh

pot-boiler

potash

potassium / potash

pound sand

praseodymium, neodymium (and didymium)

Prince Edward Island

promethium

proof of the pudding

pros from Dover

protactinium

pull the wool over one’s eyes

pumpernickel

push the envelope

pussyfoot

q.t., on the

quean

Quebec

quick, quicksilver

quiz

rabbit test / the rabbit died

radiation

radio

radioactive

radium / radioactive / radio / radiation

radon

rain cats and dogs

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