Top 10 English Words With Shameful Pasts
Words. Some of us interact with them almost every day. They’re inexpensive, portable and let us communicate our feelings rather well (like, say, the feeling of wanting sex.) Sure, you could always come up to someone and repeatedly jam your finger through a circle made with your other hand (while furiously raising and lowering your eyebrows) but words are so much more efficient. Unfortunately, it turns out that some of the words that we thought we could trust were lying to us about who they really are. Just like finding out that the lovable elderly man from down the street used to be a Nazi, so will the origins of these 10 English words surprise the pants off of you:
There is something inherently wholesome about the word “wife,” isn’t it? It makes you think of love, weddings, and picket fences or perhaps “wife-swapping,” depending on your preferred life style. (You know, the good things in life.) There’s definitely nothing shameful about being a wife. Or is it?
The precise origin of the word is uncertain, though some linguists have suggested that it might come from the root *ghwibh-, which means “shame,” as in “Dear God, look at yourself, woman. You married ME of all people? You should be ashamed of yourself.” Pretty sure that’s exactly how we got the word.
From Batman’s Robin to George Washington’s knife-wielding pet chimpanzee, sidekicks have always held a special place in our culture, but where did the word itself come from? Is it because a sidekick is someone you gently kick to the side when the press arrives so you can hog all the glory?
Allegedly, the word goes back to pick-pockets, who used their own secret lingo to identify different types of pockets. The pocket on the side of your pants was called the “kick,” or “side kick,” and it was the most difficult place to steal from. So with time, a “sidekick” became someone or something trustworthy which is always by your side.
“Gibberish,” for the uninformed, is basically a strain of nonsensical, meaningless talk or writing. Sort of like your biology teacher telling you that unless you put a rubber sleeping bag over your junk you will catch some magical disease that causes you to die from the common cold or something.
What’s the origin of the word? Racism. “Gibberish” probably comes from “jabber” which early on became a word used to describe the language of Gypsies, who sounded totally ridiculous speaking a language other than English. Then one day “Gypsy” and “jabber” kinda got mashed up and got “gibberish” – the nonsensical ramblings of Gypsies. Classy.
Unless you’re a WWI commander or the type of kid who got beat up in school A LOT, you probably don’t use the word “decimate” that much, but you probably know what it means (basically). It’s like “to kill” or “destroy,” right? Close. It’s more like “to reduce in great quantity,” as in “During my college days, I decimated my entire weed supply in just a week.”
Surprisingly, the original meaning of the word had nothing to do with large-scale destruction / reduction. Rather, the Ancient Roman “decimatio,” from which “decimate” comes from, meant “the removal of a tenth.” What were the Romans removing? People. Decimation used to be a punishment for cities or armies where one in ten people was picked out in a draw and had to be beaten to death by the remaining 9, aka their friends and family. Why? Because that’s how the Ancient Romans rolled.
Were you alive at any point in history past 1900? Chances are you were called a cretin at least once by the playground kids (alongside Fartface and Penisbutt… Kids can be really cruel and stupid at the same time). Today we’re of course aware that cretinism is a genuine medical condition but how did the word come about? Christians might have the right answer.
One of the proposed origins for “cretin” is from “christianus” a Vulgar Latin term meaning… a Christian, but more in the sense of “unfortunate person.” You’re free to make any religion joke you want, but personally I am just impressed how apparently easy it is to speak in Latin. Seriously, Christian-christianus? Latin is pretty damn simpleus.
When you hear the word “punk” you almost certainly think of “punk rock” but before Sum 41 invented this genre of music, what did the word mean? What or who was a punk? The answer: whores.
That’s right. The original meaning of “punk,” first recorded in the 16th goddamned century, was “harlot” or “prostitute.” Of course words tend to change, and so did “punk.” After a couple of years, it slowly changed its meaning from “hooker” to “homosexual.” In fact, the modern definition of “young criminal” did not surface until about a 100 years ago. This kinda puts the Sex Pistols’ name in perspective, doesn’t it?
The modern abandonment of the idea that you should pay money for music has forced the good old jukebox out of existence. For those of you too young to remember, a jukebox was something like a big, coin operated iPod. You could find them in bars and clubs all across the country, but if you go by the original meaning of the word, you would think to look for them in whorehouses.
There are a number of theories about the origin of the word “juke,” but the most interesting one traces the word to the West African Gullah language word “juk,” which meant, among other things, “a brothel” (if used in the word “jukehouse.”) And now, ladies and gentlemen, I give you a picture of a robot fornicating with a jukebox because for the first time it actually makes sense in context:
Vanilla is awesome, isn’t it? It smells nice, tastes nice, and it even looks nice. But despite all that I would sincerely hope that none of you ever felt the urge to… have sex with a vanilla plant. Even though its name does mean “vagina.”
Upon its discovery, vanilla was named “vainilla” which goes all the way back to the Latin “vagina” (and not vaginus as you would logically assume), which itself means “sheath.” Allegedly, the discovering party felt that the vanilla pods were sort of sheath shaped and, hey, they haven’t seen a woman for months and really… who would know, right?
To any hack comedian, the word “pencil” is a genuine goldmine of funny because it shares three entire letters and the basic shape with “penis.” The jokes just write themselves. Therefore I am happy to ruin it all by saying that the observation is not clever in the least because “pencil” does basically mean “penis.”
There is a whole boring genealogy of the word to go through, but in the end it all comes down to the Latin word “penis” which meant “tail” cause that’s where the material for the pencil’s predecessor, the brush, came from. Combine that with the fact that pencils are made from wood and you should start panicking over your pencil biting habits in 3, 2, 1…
Let’s talk about hunting homeless people for sport. You know how you have that one friend, whom you take along on the hunt and who immediately starts panicking right after the deed like “Oh God, what have we done, we’re going to jail, and I won’t survive with this body!” etc.? That’s called being hysteric, or as the origin of the word might tell you, “acting like a woman.”
“Hysteric” comes from the Greek “hysterikos,” which means “belonging to the womb.” So when you’re acting hysterical, it means you’re acting as if you had a womb, or as a woman, with your uncontrolled emotions like women are prone to do, am I right guys? Oh, this black eye? I… walked into a door…
by Rick Raule