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15 Words That Are Not As Straight Forward As They Look

There's an etymological old wives' tale that suggests the "step" in stepmother and stepfather comes from the fact that they're added to genealogical charts. Unfortunately, it's completely untrue.

Despite appearances, the "step" in these words stems from Old English term, steop which was once used to indicate loss or bereavement. Way back then, "stepchild" or steopcild orphan, not just the offspring of a second spouse.

Here are 15 more words of their true origins and meanings are not quite as straightforward as they seem.

. 1 The "quick" in quicksand [1
969005] does not mean fast.

Despite what you might think about the stuff being sucked, this word is not a synonym for speedy , It's not mean "fast" in the word quicksilver -an old name for mercury-either. Instead, both of these are "alive" or "living," a reference to the moving, animated ground in a patch of quicksand, and to the fact that quicksilver, as a liquid, can move and be hugged.

2. The "lolli" in lollipop does not mean lolling.

The old story that the word refers to popsicles and ice-lollies that droop as they melt just is not true. In fact, this lolly is at Old English dialect term for the tongue.

3. The "mid" in midwife does not mean middle.

For that matter, the "wife" in midwife does not mean, well, wife. The word wife originally meant "woman," while mid-in for "with" -making a mid-wife a woman who is literally with a woman as she gives birth.

4. wilderness does not mean wild.

This wilder is a corruption of the Old English wild deor

meaning wild deer or animal-which you will definitely find in the wilderness.

5. The "cut" in cutlet does not mean trimmed.

This prefix has nothing to do with cutlets "cut" from a larger joint of meat. In this case, cutlet descends from the French word costelette meaning little rib.

6. The "bel" in belfry does not mean bell.

A belfry is not necessarily a bell tower. The original belfry was actually a mobile victory tower that could be wheeled up to castles and town walls by invading armies to gain access from outside. In that sense, the word derives from bercfrit the old Germanic name for this piece of equipment.

7. The "ham" in hamburger does not mean meat.

The beginning of the word has nothing to do with meat of any kind. You probably know this one already: Hamburgers are people or things that come from Hamburg, Germany. The hamburglar, on the other hand, comes from Des Plaines, Ill.

8. The "Jerusalem" in Jerusalem Artichoke

GIRASOLLE the Italian word for sunflower.

The adjective for this unassuming tuber is a corruption The Jerusalem artichoke is not an artichoke-it's actually a member of the sunflower family. It's also called a sunchoke or sunroot.

9. piggyback does not mean pig.

pick-a-pack or pick-pack -A 16th-century expression for carrying something on your shoulders. It might derive from the old use of pick to mean "pitch," and pack, meaning a bag or satchel.


Sandblind is a 15th-century word, seldom encountered today outside literature and poetry, for being half-blind. It is often said to be all poor visibility during dust storms and sand storms. But it's simpler than that: sandblind derives from its Old English equivalent samblind the "sam" of which means the same as "semi" does today.

11. The curry in curry favor does not mean stew.

There's an old myth that curries favor with someone in their curriculum it cooks. Instead, the true story behind this one is even more peculiar. In this case, curry derives from a Middle English word meaning "to groom a horse," while favor is a corruption of Fauvel, the name of a chestnut-colored horse that appeared in an old french poem and folktale about a horse that wanted to be his master and take over his kingdom. In the tale, Fauvel succeeds in his quest and ends the story being fawned over and "corrupted" by all the obsequious members of his master's court. Currying favor literally means "sycophantically grooming a chestnut horse."

12. Shamefaced shamefaced shamefaced shamefast with -fast in this sense meaning fixed or constant, as it does in steadfast or stuck nearly. Presumably the word changed over time because of the shame of a shamefaced person.

13. The "chock" in chock-full

Chock-full has nothing to do with being rammed as tight as a chick a vehicle. Instead, chock in this context is derived from choke, in the sense of being suffocatingly crammed or crowded.

14. The "d" in D-day does not stand for disembarkation.

It does not mean deliverance, Germany, doomsday, decision, or any other D-words popular history might have you believe. In fact, D-Day, which just happens to alliterative placeholder used during the planning of the Normandy Landings for the unspecified day on which the operation would take place. 1919, a full 26 years before Allied troops stormed the beaches. The French name for D-Day, by the way, is J-jour .

15. Goodbye goodbye Goodbye is a contraction of "God be with you," an expression of departure or best wishes in English from the medieval period. As the phrase goes on, "God" drifted toward "good" in other words. By the late 16th century, we were left with the word we use today.

This piece first ran in 2017 and was republished in 2019.

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