Weird words we use everyday

To tell you the truth I think all words are weird. Language in general is a very peculiar thing. It is just grunts and sounds arranged in a particular pattern or sequence that we have all collectively agreed has some sort of meaning. English in particular is complex and hard to learn as in it’s structure there are more exceptions to the rule than not and it is very…wordy. It is an easy language to add to; creating slang, the use of portmanteaus, and the absorption of words from other languages.

But some words in particular make me raise an eyebrow. Sometimes not right away. Every once in a while I will say the most regular word and it will suddenly seem incredibly alien. I know what it is but not really, if you know what I mean. Here are a few of those.

Marshmallow

Marshmallows

These sugary confections are dropped into hot chocolate, roasted over open fires, and added to all kinds of decadent desserts but where did the word “marshmallow” actually come from? This thought came to mind one day as the word clumsily tumbled off my tongue when asking for them at a grocery store. There was a sudden and intense curiosity. And when I got home I looked it up.

Thanks to Google and Wikipedia the answer was easy to find. I do not long for the days of flipping through the Encyclopedia Britannica but I do miss them. Marshmallows are actually named after the Mallow plant which is a herb found in Europe, North Africa, and Asia that grows in marshes and damp areas – hence marsh-mallow. The roots of the herb were originally boiled with honey and used for medicinal purposes ie to sooth sore throats and heal wounds. This practice goes as far back as the Ancient Egyptians.

The concoction made its way into candy stores as lozenges in the 1800s where confectioners whipped water, sugar, and egg whites with the plant roots. In the late 1800s the root was replaced with gelatin making it easier for mass production. And even though the Mallow was no longer used in its production it the name, marshmallow, stuck.

Hotdog

Hot dog grilled with mustard and ketchup on a bun

Hotdogs conjure up thoughts of BBQs on summer afternoons and arguments about where it is a sandwich or not but why are the called “hotdogs”?

Well this story starts in Germany where the frankfurter was invented. They were brought to the US through immigration and soon became a popular working-class street food in the late 1900s.  At the time you would just get the sausage without a bun but at some point a bun was added although it is unclear who was the first to do so. But this doesn’t really clarify where the term “hotdog” comes from.

Used as a synonym for sausage, the term “dog” has been used since the 1800s. This may be attributed to the 2 things

  1. There was a popular sausage brand in German called the “dachshund” or “little-dog” that was shortened to just “dog”
  2. There was an accusation that dog meat was used in making sausages but there may be some truth to that as in Germany the consumption dog meat was common in the late 19th and early 20th century.

But where does the hot come from? Well, a popular belief is that the term “hotdog” was actually due the a cartoonists inability to spell “dachshund”. He drew a cartoon with an elongated dog in a bun and because of his inability to spell the word he just wrote “hot dog”. This apparently isn’t true as a copy of the cartoon has yet to be found. 

The actual origin of the term is unclear but one of the earliest written references of the term “hot dog” appeared in a fictitious story that ran in the Yale Record where it says that people “contentedly munched hot dogs”. 

But that neglects another burning question, is a hotdog a sandwich?

Cinema

Not all my curiosity is piqued by food but also when I participate in my other favourite pass-time. As we know “Cinema” refers to a motion picture and/or the art of motion pictures but where does the word actually come from? 

It is actually the shortened form of the french word “cinematographe” coined by the inventors of the motion picture projector and camera, the Lumiere brothers. It comes from the Greek “kinema” meaning “movement” and “graphein”  meaning “to write” so pretty much it is “movement writing” which I think it is pretty accurate and succinct word for it. 

On a side note the term movie, whose origin isn’t clear, most likely comes from just a shortened slang term for “moving picture”.

Portmanteau

portmanteau luggage leather brown with studs

This is a word that has been coming up in media a lot as people keep adding to the English language and I enjoy using as it makes me sound smart.

If you don’t know, a portmanteau word is a word that blends the sounds and the meanings of 2 words into one. This includes words like brunch (breakfast + Lunch), blog (web + log), Brexit (British + Exit), podcast (iPod + broadcast), and so on. There are a lot of them out there.

The thing is “portmanteau” is a word borrowed from the French that is a portmanteau itself. It is a combination or the french words “porter”, carry, and “manteau”, mantle. It originally referred to a large suitcase that opened into 2 equal parts. 

The word “portmanteau” was appropriated into the English language in the 16th century but it wasn’t used in reference to words until Lewis Carroll used it in that fashion in 1871s “Through the Looking Glass”.

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