Top 10 Fun Meanings Of Ancient Words


Many people consider the study of ancient languages to be boring. However, every now and again, the guy reading Latin in the library will burst out laughing. The reason for this, is that there are modern interpretations of ancient words that can honestly just strike you as funny.

Need proof?  This is the Greek and Latin quiz that you probably never got when you were going through high school. If you had, there is a chance you would have kept studying ancient languages.

10. Albus

41621 Ron Weasley & Albus Dumbledore

Albus is a masculine, Latin word that means “white.” So basically, the Headmaster of Hogwarts walked around with a first name of “white guy.” This is also interesting in the fact that “alba” is the feminine version of the word white. So, in theory, when you talk about Jessica Alba, you are essentially saying Jessica White Girl. Albus is also the root word of albinus, which brings us to albino. This makes sense, since Albinos have the primary feature of being, well, white. J.K. Rowling was a smart woman to make Albus’ last name Dumbledore, and not something a little more overt, like Supremus.

9. Hystera

Image result for womb

Hystera is the  ancient Greek word for “womb,” and also birthed words such as “uterus” and “hysteria.” This is not actually a coincidence. For centuries, being hysterical was also called the “traveling womb disease.” As such, men could not suffer from “hysteria.” However, this is one of the rare times in which a totally sexist perception had a favorable result for the victims of the sexist attitude. In the nineteenth century, the cure for these female crazies was widely considered to be a screaming orgasm. As such, doctors’ offices actually had mechanical vibrators and water pulse treatment, intended to produced the desired orgasm. We can imagine that some patients needed the vibrator treatment four or five times a week, both for actual fits or simple preventative medicine.

8. Panther

Image result for Panther

The Greeks actually had a fair idea how to tell you that this was a cat not to mess with. Panther evolved from the Greek word panthera. Pan, in Greek, means “all” or “of everything.” Thera means “harvester” or “reaper.” Put it all together, and the term panthera means “reaper of everything.” Any decent betting man would not pick you over the Reaper of Everything, as your chances against a cat that could take the soul of the Grim Reaper if necessary are more than a little slim. That is how you truly know you are being warned.

7. Melissa

Image result for honey bee

Have you ever known a Melissa that was a little bit, well, flighty? Have you ever known a Melissa that was what the guys in Animal House would call “morally casual?” Don’t hate them. They may just be living up to their name. Melissa is actually a Greek word that means “honeybee,” so being flighty is just all part and parcel to their nature. Melissa was also the name of the nymph who attended to Zeus. To this day, we talk about how Nymphs were kind of, erm, enthusiastic creatures. So don’t blame someone just trying to do justice to their given name.

6. Pterodactyl

Image result for Pterodactyl

This word may well make you lose respect for anyone who ever named a dinosaur. Pterodactyl is the shortened version of Pterodactylus, which is the masculine form of a Greek word meaning “winged finger.” Yep, that is the extent of the name. They found some bones of a wing with fingers attached, so the entire damn species gets saddled with “winged fingers” as a name. Rather than a terrifying beast, Winged Fingers sounds like a dish that you would order at Hooters from some poor girl hoping to one day be a dental assistant.

5. Diphtheria

Image result for Diphtheria

Everyone knows that diphtheria is a terrible disease but, prior to vaccinations, Diphtheria was practically a death sentence. You many not have realized how screwed the very name implied that you were. Diphtheria is an ancient Greek word that means “pair of leather scrolls.” To be blunt, the leather scrolls, in this diagnosis, are your lungs. Lungs are supposed to be soft, pink, and squishy, not something Indiana Jones unwraps while searching for buried treasure.  In a way, saying diphtheria is kinder than spelling out the definition of the word.

4. Facio

Imagine the following scenario: you are a high school freshman, sitting through Latin class and trying not to snore, and come across the word “facio.” It would take you all of two seconds to associate that word with the mother of all F-bombs. Never mind that it actually means “I do.” The fact that it sounds exactly how you’d expect? That’s what’s important.

It gets better once you learn other ways to use the word. “He/she/it does” is facit. If you want to order someone to do something, you would simply say fac. “I will do?” Faciam. “We will do?” Faciemus. In short, you have one of the few Latin word that could potentially be rapped by Jay and Silent Bob, as well as one that could get you in trouble with Mom, for no reason other than what it sounds like.

3. Hippopotamus

The hippopotamus is actually a cousin of the pig, but its not named as such. No, hippopotamus actually means “river horse” in ancient Greek. River horse? Really? How drunk was the guy who came up with names back then? How could anyone look at a hippo in the water and think “you know Mordecai, if I just had a saddle…”

It’s a good thing that college football wasn’t around in ancient Greek times. Can you imagine someone trying to portray the “Fighting Hippos,” with a sideline mascot of a “river horse?” College mascots can be pretty silly, but at least the Fighting Geoducks are represented by a freakin’ geoduck instead, of, say, a woodpecker.

2. Penis

pin the donkey on the Tail, Backwards party

Roman men would not have called their naughty bits a penis, as that is the Latin word for “tail.” This leads to several interesting implications. First of all, the wrong people have been getting a  “piece of tail” for centuries. Second, a Roman using this word would have likely talked about how their cat spent the whole day doing nothing but chasing their penis around. If the meanings of words had stayed the same throughout history, children everywhere would be having fun at birthday parties by playing Pin The Penis On The Donkey. That would be really strange, especially when the blindfolded kid sticks the penis in the wrong place.

1. Vagina

Vagina was originally the Latin word that meant “sheath” or “scabbard.” It can only be speculated that a man would define a female sex organ as “a place to put my sword.”

Imagine being a member of the Roman cavalry, riding into battle with your vagina flapping against their hips. There would also have to be great skill in selecting the proper vagina for your sword. Obviously, you would want a sword that could fill it completely, though the more that your sword is in the vagina, the better it would fit. Of course, it would be advised that loose vaginas be refitted and tightened by a professional.  Maintenance would also dictate that the vagina be wiped with a cloth when not in use. Just try to avoid using harsh liquids.

James Ciscell has a degree in Classical Civilizations from the University of Mississippi. Every decade or so, this comes in really handy.

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  1. I feel so lucky right now. I learned so many new things reading this. That was one GREAT list. Amazing effort, thank you Jim.

  2. “…doctors’ offices actually had mechanical vibrators and water pulse treatment, intended to produced the desired orgasm. ”

    You might want to look further into that; it is generally acknowledged that doctors using vibrators and such on patients is an urban legend. The confusion comes from the fact those devices (explicitly made for a sexual purpose) could not be openly sold and were marketed as medical devices to the general public as well as to doctors by the manufactures as a way to skirt obscenity laws.

  3. No, the “pair of leather scrolls” are not your lungs. I don’t know where you got that from. The “pair of leather scrolls” describes the way your throat and your tonsills look when you catch that disease: They develop a thick, brownish plaque that looks somehow leathery.

  4. Thanks for your kind words! This one is actually observations I have collected over the years, having a degree in classics from college and just kind of researching.

  5. Oh :c I’m not so sure it let my other comment through, because it had to v-word!

    Well, if it didn’t go through, I’d still like to say this was a great list! I was in need of a laugh and this list certainly delivered! (And it was also informative!)

  6. “Imagine being a member of the Roman cavalry, riding into battle with your vagina flapping against your hips.”

    That’s got to be the most hilarious sentence I’ve read in ages! Thank you, I really need a laugh!

    And great list, I had no idea about a lot of these!