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22 Surprising & Weird Word Origins (Slideshow)

21. Clock

Some scholars argue that clock is one of the few common words to come into English from Celtic (cloc), while others claim its origin is in Middle Low German klocke, from medieval Latin clocca. Wherever it came from, its original meaning was “bell.” It’s likely that, like owl, it’s an onomatopoeic word; in this case, it may have been inspired by the rattling, clacking noise that early sheet-iron handbells made.

22. Ostracize

Ostracize comes to us from the Greek word ostrakizein, which came from ostrakon, meaning “shell or potsherd.” Why? Because, around 506–322 BC in Athens, there was a procedure called ostracism, in which any citizen could be expelled from the city-state for ten years. Each year, Athenian citizens had the opportunity to hold an ostracism; if they chose to, citizens would write the name of a person they wanted to expel onto potsherds (ostraka). Officials would tally the ostraka, and if there were enough, they would banish the person with the most votes.



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Molly Allison-Baker

Molly is a nature and travel enthusiast who is passionate about endangered languages, natural history, and women's and LGBT issues. In her free time, she enjoys rock climbing, reading, and hanging out with her three cats.


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8:23PM PDT on Jun 15, 2014

Several surprises. Light touch and nice humor.

4:23PM PST on Nov 23, 2013

Very interesting that while much of language changes, much of it stays relatively same through time and travel. Thanks.

5:27PM PDT on Oct 26, 2013

fascinating, but 11 pages????

7:53AM PDT on Sep 22, 2013

I see lot coming from spanish

3:34AM PDT on May 25, 2013

I think avocado might be my favorite in this list.

7:00PM PDT on May 20, 2013

Totally cool...

1:06PM PST on Feb 11, 2013

awesome!!!! my favorite class in college was linguistics --- basically what this is, had I taken it before senior year might have changed my major....

2:24AM PST on Jan 19, 2013

i knew a few of those. the word 'testify' comes from the roman legal system, whereby you-if you were male-would swear to tell the truth in court, or get your testicles cut off. i don't know any more than that, but at least that's how the word has come about for today!

11:32AM PST on Dec 8, 2012


2:03AM PST on Nov 5, 2012

Interesting, thank you! I always found languages fascinating, it is after all the basis of communication among humans.
What about wife, you did not include the origin of the term?

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