Word Origins Quiz
June 2021

Image by Tengyart

Scientists in the ancient world and the Middle Ages believed that the world was made up of four elements: earth, air, fire and water. This adjective is derived from a fifth and superior element added by Aristotle: “ether,” a pure essence he believed filled space and the heavenly bodies beyond the moon.

The word is:  Quintessential.

Phrase Origins Quiz

May 2021


A 17th century Cambridge innkeeper, who was also a licensed mail carrier between Cambridge and London, England, rented his horses to university students when he wasn't using them. To prevent the most popular horses from being overworked, he launched a strict rotation system, requiring each customer to take the most rested horse nearest the stable door. If a customer demurred, the innkeeper would refuse to rent him any of his horses.

The phrase is:  Hobson's choice.

Word Origins Quiz

April 2021

Image by Ravi Pinisetti

In the 14th century, this word meant “windless.” It comes from Old French and Old Italian words meaning “tranquility” and “quiet, fair weather,” respectively. Both words are probably further derived from multiple languages in which they meant something akin to “the heat of the day,” which was considered a time of quiet and stillness. The word’s current, figurative meaning of “peacefulness” is from the 1540s.

The word is:  Calm.

Phrase Origins Quiz

March 2021


In 1908, the Illinois High School Association debuted an annual basketball tournament that grew to a statewide competition with over 900 schools by the late 1930's. The games were often sellouts. Henry V. Porter, an assistant executive secretary of the Illinois High School Association, was so taken by the phenomenon that he wrote a story about it. The phrase used as the title of the story caught on and and was used to describe the contest for decades. In 1982, it became synonymous with the annual NCAA championship basketball tournament when it was used by sportscaster Brent Musberger.

The phrase is:  March Madness.

Words Origins Quiz

February 2021

Image by Matt Briney

From an Urdu (Persian) word meaning “dusty-colored.” In the mid-19th century, the British army was still wearing heavy woolen bright-red uniforms that were easy for opponents to target and uncomfortable in India’s sweltering heat. British officers, observing that their Indian privates wore light cotton garments smeared with soil and tea for camouflage, adapted the more practical uniforms, and their wear spread beyond the military.

The word is:  Khaki.

Words Origins Quiz

January 2021

Cow and Calf

In the late 18th century, English physician Edward Jenner tested the validity of an urban legend that milkmaids who got cowpox didn't get the much more lethal smallpox. His inoculations worked and got named after a Latin word meaning “from cows.”

The word is:  Vaccine.