Curious Word Origins

Common words with uncommon beginnings

Many everyday words have strange and surprising etymologies. Here are just a few of them.

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Use this alphabet if you just want to simply browse through the pages of this collection:
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


If you prefer to go straight to the meaning and origin of a specific word,
click on its relevant entry in the alphabetical list below.

Use this alphabet to speed up your search:
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

...A:-
abacus
abracadbra
acre
acrobat
amazon
ambrosia
apocalypse
arcadian
armada
armageddon
assassin
atlas
average
avocado
...B:-
backstairs
ball
ballyhoo
baloney
barbarous
barmy
barnstorming
barrack
bedlam
behemoth
bigwig
bikini
bilge
blackguard
blackleg
blacklist
blackmail
blackout
blighty
blockbuster
blockhead
bluestocking
bootleg
bugbear
bumf
...C:-
cab
cabal
Cabinet
calendar
candidate
caucus
claptrap
cliffhanger
clue
cockpit
coward
curfew
cushy
cynic
...D:-
daft
dashboard
deadline
denim
digit
dogsbody
dollar
...E:-
earmark
eavesdrop
etiquette
explode
...F:-
fan
fanatic
fascist
fiasco
fleshpots
freelance
frogmarch
..
...G:-
Gadarene
giddy
gingerly
gobbledegook
gossamer
groggy
grotesque
.
H:-
haggard
handicap
hazard
hearse
henchman
hidebound
hobnob
hoodlum
hunch
...I:-
iconoclast
ignoramus
...J:-
jeans
junk
...K:-
kamikaze
kidnap
king
...L:-
lackadaisical
loophole
...M:-
maelstrom
magazine
malaria
manure
masterpiece
mollycoddle
money
....
...N:-
nabob
nepotism
nice
nightmare
nipper
.
O:-
odyssey
.
P:-
pandemonium
pants
paraphernalia
pedigree
plonk
posh
propaganda
protocol
pundit
...Q:-
quack
quarantine
quintessence
quiz
...R:-
rigmarole
robot
..S:-
sabotage
sanguine
scapegoat
shambles
shirty
silly
sinecure
sirloin
skinflint
slapstick
slipshod
smithereens
spinster
steeplechase
swashbuckler
...T:-
taboo
tank
teetotal
titan
titanic
tomfoolery
trivia
tycoon
...U:-
umpire
umpteen
upstage
...V:-
vandal
vaudeville
...W:-
wimp
windfall
...X:-
...(None yet)
...Y:-
Yank, Yankee
yen
...Z:-
zany
zap
zero
zizz
zombie

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