For many years I had a weekly column which dealt with the origin of our English words! More often than not, we speak this wonderful language, without really checking from where some of the words originally originated. The field dealing with the origin of words is Etymology. Today I thought we could have a look at some curious word origins. Some of the origins are English, some French, German, Latin and Greek, from which ultimately good old English borrowed and stole and enriched herself. Enjoy the words with me today!

Did you ever wonder where the word “addict” originated from? Well in the days of the Romans, slaves were given to Roman soldiers as a reward for their performance in battle. These slaves were known as addicts. Eventually a person who was a slave to anything was known as addict. How strange that addiction is no more any form of reward or gratification but most often an evil habit!

And what about “alcohol”, the drink that makes men, beasts. This word comes from the Arabic word “Al-Kohl”, which means a fine powder used for eye makeup. It conveyed the idea of something fine and subtle, like alcohol going down smoothly. Interestingly the first alcohol produced was invented by Arabs, who did not drink because their religion forbade it. Imagine inventing something and watching a tipsy-topsy turvy world making fools of themselves while remaining sober!

Asthma, good ole asthma means oppression and there is no doubt this word which originates from Latin, has been rightly named.

Coming down to the “ballot”, well ballot in Italian mean “small pebble” Italian citizens once voted by casting a small pebble into a box. I guess the pebbles being cast nowadays are not small anymore, what with stones and rocks being hurled at politicians instead!

Next time as you chew your biscuit at teatime, remember it comes from the French word “Bis + cuit” which means “cooked twice.” So it’s not our teeth which can’t bite into them that we need to dip them into our tea, it’s the cooks formula.

Cab, I’m talking of the taxicab, is an old Italian term for goat. Yes, you taxi drivers, who dump us around, are like goats jumping off a mountain slope.

And here’s one for Robin Hood and the late Veerapan. The word forest came from the French word meaning “outside.” Now we know why those who take up abode “outside,” become outlaws, both Robin Hood and Veerapan included.

Here’s one to make you ladies blush: The word “gorilla” is New Latin for a tribe of hairy women. Imagine that! And for you men “gymnasium” the place you go to build your Salman Khan image, means the place where “you train naked.” Ha, ha!

Well that’s all for today folks, and I hope you realize there’s history and fun behind words we use…!

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