Language Facts

According to John Waters, people who are into feet are called "shrimpers."

The decibel was named after Alexander Graham Bell.

The word "voodoo" comes from a West African word that means "spirit" or "diety." In the etymology of the word, there are no connotations of evil or immorality.

The word "honcho" comes from a Japanese word meaning "squad leader" and first came into usage in the English language during the American occupation of Japan following World War II.

The first white person to popularize the use of the word "groovy" was Helen O'Connell, a singer with Jimmy Dorsey's band in the 1940s.

The words "gene" and "genius" from the word "gens," which was used by Greek philosophers such as Aristotle to describe the ingenuity of males. "Genius" and "females" were never associated with each other.

According to one handwriting analyst, people who write with large letters tends to denote ambition or thinking big. People who are in show business often write big.

English soldiers of the Hundred Years' War were known to the French as "Les Goddams" because of their propensity to swear.

The word accordion comes from the German word "akkord," which means "agreement, harmony."

A felcher is someone who cleans someone else's butt.

Women's underwear is called "smalls" in England.

According to one amateur etymologist, the word "fuck" is an acronym for "Forced Unlawful Carnal Knowledge," a crime that people were hauled into jail for. The Anglo Saxon origin of "fuck" had something to do with poking a hole in the ground.

An optimist is someone who tells you to cheer up when things are going his way.

The expression "good to the last drop" used by Maxwell House Coffee was coined by Theodore Roosevelt.

"Bubba" is Yiddish for "grandma."

If you're "doing the ton," you're breaking 100 mph on a motorcycle.

The word "bozo" derives from the French slang term "bouseaux" (meaning "hick, peasant, or yokel"). However, bouseaux literally means "cow turds." ("Cow turds the Clown" anybody?)

Even though "without" is one word, it's considered to be two in military terms, as in AWOL ("Absent Without Leave"). The reason is because "AWL" is the military's acronym for "Absent With Leave." But according to another theory, AWOL stands for "Absent Without Official Leave."

The X on a railroad crossing sign is called the "crossbuck."

The word "chortle" was coined by "Alice in Wonderland" author Lewis Carroll. It is a blend of the words "chuckle" and "snort."

Gay men who successfully joined the British Navy used to be called "reverse malingerers."

The word hurricane was derived from the Taino word "hurricana." (The Tainos were the native people Columbus originally encountered.)

The "lock" in the word "wedlock" comes from the Old English word "lac," which means "action" ("wed" is Old English for "pledge").

Tony "Two-Ton" Galento, the late heavyweight boxer who knocked down Joe Louis in a June 28, 1939 championship bout that he subsequently lost, was responsible for popularizing the phrase "I'll moider da bum" -- his motto.

Looking for a furniture removal truck in Great Britain? Better ask for a "pantechnicon."

Trobriand Islanders (off the coast of New Guinea) have euphemism for having sex that translates to "scraping the tapioca."

Spoonerisms weere named for a Professor Spooner who used them often.

Age 65 was established as being "elderly" by Otto von Bismark in 1890. Bismark arrived at the decision in order to get rid of some officers in the army.

A Boy Scout who forceably helps an old lady across the street is called an officious interloper. Ask any lawyer.

The term "dixie" was first used by a New Orleans bank that issued bilingual French-American $10 bills ("dix" is the French word for "10"). It wasn't until Daniel Decatur Emmett's 1859 song "Dixie" that it is was applied to mean the south.

Slurry is the pink meat goop made from animals organs used to make dog and cat food.

According to one source, Native American languages have no nouns, only relationships.

The words "mouse" and "muscle" come from the same root.

The Greeks had a word that meant "with armpits smelling like a he-goat."

"Chicago" is Indian for "place of wild garlic." Explorers Marquette and Jolliet even ate garlic there.

In a legal sense, angrily shaking your fist at a neighbor is considered to be "assault." It's not "battery" unless you actually follow up your actions by punching him in the nose, at which point the whole offense would be called "assault and battery."

One translation of "The Flintstones" into Spanish is "Los Pedernales."

A popular ad for a hamburger chain in France translates into English as, "If you are going to eat shit, then it might as well be this shit."

Something that Phoenix, Liverpool, and Pyongyang have in common (perhaps the only thing) is that they're all named after fabulous birds that never really existed.

There is no word for "headache" in Eskimo.

Coffee was first known as "bunc."

The expression "damned yankees" was not originally a term Southerners used toward Northerners. It actually first arose during the Revolutionary War and was used against northern "provincials" by "Yorkers" who belonged to General Schuyler's Northern army.

A firkin of lard weighs 56 pounds.

The term for when dogs scratch their butts by dragging them across the floor is called "sleigh riding."

According to Webster's, Hitler can be changed to an adjective. Hirohito and Mussolini cannot.

The expression "thin as a rail" doesn't come from railroad rails but from the bird of the same name.

According to author David Dalby, the word jazz is derived, in part, from the Mandingo word that means "to become abnormal or out-of character."

The expression "tie the knot" has several origins, including: the Latin phrase nodus Herculeus, which means that the groom was to loosen the bride's girdle; the Hindu marriage ceremony in which the groom knots a ribbon around the bride's neck; the Parsees, who bound the hands of the bridegroom; and the Carthaginians, who tied the thumbs of the bride and bridegroom with a leather lace.

The expression of "being on a high horse" comes from the days of yore when people's rank was indicated by how tall their horses were.

The word "quiz" was supposedly invented in 1780 by a Dublin theatre manager who laid a wager that he would introduce a new word of no meaning into the language within 24 hours.

White people "knew" tomatoes were deadly poison 200 years ago. They called them "love apples."

According to TV announcer John Tesh, when he was a kid, "cowabunga" was used to describe something bad and "cowagooba" was used to describe something good.

The word "Hebrew" is derived from a Babylonian word meaning "vagrant."

The origin of the word "bedlam" comes from a lunatic asylum founded in the year 1247. "Bedlam" was a contraction of "Bethlehem" from the facility's name--the priory of St. Mary of Bethlehem.

Franklin Pierce Adams (1881-1960), American journalist, poet, and humorist, was the first to coin the phrase "wine, women, and song."

The expression of bread meaning "money" comes from old Cockney rhyming slang "Give me your money. Give me your bread and honey."

Bangtails are what they call those perforated tags with advertisements on them they put on mailer envelopes.

SMURF is an acronym for Small Municipal Recycling Facility.

Did you know that you're a cosmopolite? All humans are.

Columbia University, formerly King's College, was renamed in 1792 on the occassion of the tricentennial celebration of Columbus's landing. The movement to name the nation's capital the District of Columbia happened about the same time.

The president of Gabon has forbidden the use of the word "pygmy" in his country.

"Fraternity" used to be a term groups of theives applied to themselves.

If you had doromania, you'd have a compulsive desire to give gifts.

"Dukey" is a term used by people in the dry-cleaning business to describe garments that have gotten a little stale and wrinkly.

The ancient Greeks had no way to reference any numbers more than 10,000. Any such quantity of things was simply referred to as a "Myriad."

For some reason, many businesses in Nebraska are prefaced by the word "Aksarben," such as "Aksarben Five and Dime Store" or "Aksarben Transmission Service." Aksarben is Nebraska spelled backwards.

People who are dishonestly smuggling Vietnamese boat people to Hong Kong are known in refugee circles as "snake heads."

Carpaccio, a dish prepared with thin strips of beef and sauce, is named for the painter Vittore Carpaccio, who used a lot of red in his paintings.

"Melvin" means the act of getting your testicles crunched with accompanying jerking action of the head and neck.

Agromania is a morbid passion for solitude, as well as for wandering in fields.

"Saloperie" is Cajun French for "dog gone it."

In catspeak, "meow" is actually a combination of two distinctive calls: the "me" part is a friendly greeting, while the "ow" part means, "I'm willing to defend myself." Cats meow at humans, but rarely at other cats.

In a card deck, Palas is the proper name for the queen of spades.

Before they settled on "World War II," some nomenclaturists debated on using "The Return of the World War" or "Son of World War."

In some parts of Africa, people say "Wake up living" instead of saying "Good night."

Erotodromomania is the abnormal impulse to travel to escape painful sexual situations.

The expression "Put up your dukes" comes from old Cockney rhyming slang: "Put up your forks. Put up your Duke of Yorks."

Talk about veterinary terms...flehmman. That's when, in the presence of a female's urine, a male animal (i.e. a bull) tips his head, exposes an organ in his nose while curling his lip, and makes this sort of mooing sound.

According to Reginald Braginier, Jr.'s book, What's What, the word for empty space between the bottle top and the liquid is called "ullage."

Beep-beep in Spanish is "Tin-tin." Bow-wow translates to "Gua-Gua."

Malaria was so named because it was associated with the vapors rising from swamps ("mala" means bad and "aria" means air).

The word "zipper" was first used by B.F. Goodrich after he invented a new fastener for overshoes.

A word that sounds like "taco" is the Japanese word for "octopus" and is a really bad insult among Japanese children.

"POSH" is an acronym for "Port Outward Starboard Home." It was a term coined to describe how rich people traveled at sea on the way to the Indies to avoid getting the morning sun on their side of the ship.

Chicago is called "the Windy City," but not because of weather conditions there.

The letter "p" was originally derived from the Phoenician symbol for the word for "mouth," which was pronouced "pe."

A group of larks is an exaltation. A group of pheasants is a spring. A group of Texans is a wealth.

In Spain, when there is one bit of food left on the plate that nobody will eat, it is referred to as the "embarassed piece."

The word "fu" is usually interpreted as an exclamation of disgust at the strong smell of valerian root.

The Samburu tribesman who speaks in a recent Nike commercial isn't really saying the Nike motto "Just Do It." In his native tongue, Maa, he's actually saying "I don't want these. Give me bigger shoes."

Portland, Oregon was named in a coin-toss in 1844. Heads "Portland," tails "Boston."

"Cous-cous" is Iranian for "vagina."

Dutch courage is a euphemism for alcoholic beverages.

"Squids" are kids who drive motorcycles wearing tank tops and shorts. The nickname comes from how they look after an accident.

One ad for Pepsi used in China, "Come alive with Pepsi," actually translated to "Pepsi brings your ancestors back to life."

Hoppin' John, an old southern dish made from rice, tomatoes, and black-eyed peas, is named for the waiter who first served it or for the behavior of the chilldren in the family that concocted it.

A trampoline without a fence around it is called "an attractive nuisance." Ask any lawyer.

The word for insect feces is "frass."

In one African country, the word "wabenzi" is a derrogatory term for a rich, white imperialist. The "benz" in "wabenzi" is derived from "Mercedes Benz."

"Walla" is a sound engineer's term for room noise.

In China, the Big Dipper is known as "the celestial bureaucrat."

German soldiers on the Eastern Front during World War II were issued a German-Russian phrasebook that contained more than 3,000 words and phrases. Tellingly, it did not contain the word "sorry."

Dwight Eisenhower turned priority into a verb.

One cat-hating man in Seattle, Washington has recently invented the word "catmatic." He coined it as an opposite to "dogmatic" and it means "pussyfooting around."

The expression "paddy wagon" is derived from a derogatory refernece to picking up drunk Irish people.

Winnie the Pooh was originally translated into Latin by a Hungarian doctor living in South America who wanted to teach a friend's kid Latin.

Some airplane mechanics refer to motor oil as "pickle juice."

The word "dude," which was coined by Oscar Wilde and his friends, is a hybrid of the words "duds" (for clothes) and "attitude." Unlike today, the word was considered derogatory until the 1960s.

Young women in Atlanta used to refer to their private parts as "janers."

According to one etymologist, the word "barbecue" is derived from the Spanish word "barbacoa," which is derived from "barbecue," a word used by a cannibalistic tribe in the Carribean.

The name "California" was taken from a 16th century Spanish novel, The Exploits of Esplaidian by Garcia Ordonez de Montalvo who described it as a mythical Amazon kingdom ruled by black women.

Mr. Smarty Pants gets his information from books, magazines, newspapers,
the internet, radio, and television. He also includes facts he has overheard at parties.

All contents--Copyright 2008 Smarty Pants Productions