Word Origins Quiz

September 2020

This election related word from the mid-15th century comes from a Latin word meaning "vow" or "promise made to a god."

Word Origins Quiz

August 2020

The harpsichord was one of the most important instruments in European music from the 16th through the first half of the 18th century. Strings are plucked by leather or quill points connected with the keys. In 1709, Italian Bartolomeo Cristofori invented a new harpsichord that allowed for a much wider range of volume and longer lasting notes. Clearly not a marketing genius, Cristofori called his invention "harpsichord with soft and loud," which was shortened in English to this name by the 1770s.

Word Origins Quiz

July 2020

Originating from a Latin term meaning "pregnant animal" or "breeding female," this word was later generalized to mean "womb" and "source" or "origin." In ancient Rome, it also referred to a plant whose seeds were used for producing other plants.


Over time, the word has developed both a figurative and technical definition of something within, or from which, something else originates, develops, or takes form. It is used in science and mathematics and was even the title of a famous science fiction movie series.

Word Origins Quiz

June 2020

The first of these two words comes from Late Latin. Its roots meant "to threaten forward" and the word meant to "drive animals ahead." In the 16th century, in Middle French, the word evolved to mean a "leisurely stroll" or "a place for a walk." By the 18th century, it also referred to a walkway by the ocean.  In the late 19th century this word, and a shortened version of it, became associated with dances and dancing positions. 


The shortened version of this word and the formal school dance it represents, can be traced to a 19th century Ivy League annual tradition called “presentation week,” during which formal dress and dancing was accompanied a concert and other activities.

Read a New York Times 1865 story about "Presentation Week" at Yale College here

Phrase & Word Origins Quiz May 2020

In the late 1800s, this term was used to describe a sports referee.  That term led to a metaphorical phrase meaning to "reveal a wrong doing."  The original term itself now refers to the person exposing a crime or misdeed.  Can you guess the phrase and the word?

Word Origins Quiz April 2020

In 1920, writer Karel Čapek debuted a play called R.U.R. about machines that performed difficult, dull or dangerous work for people.  Čapek got the name for these machines from his brother Josef whose inspiration was a Czech work meaning "servitude" or "forced labor."

Read more about the answer here

Word Origins Quiz March 2020

This word is from the mid 17th century and is the combination of two Greek words meaning "all people."

Word Origins Quiz February 2020

This word derives from a Latin verb meaning "to bubble out." It originally referred to bubbling or boiling,  like a pot of water. Its figurative sense of "exuberant" is first recorded 1600s.

Phrase Origins Quiz January 2020

The key word in this phrase comes from a Latin word for "stake" and also referred to a fence (a barrier made of stakes). The word "pole" comes from the same source. By the end of the 14th century, the word took on additional senses including a place where one was not allowed to go. Eventually, probably in the 1700s, this idiom took on its figurative meaning of "outside the limits of propriety." 

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