If you stumbled upon this site in search of curious words, Dear Reader, I hope you can find some amusement in the following list.* The words below may look ordinary, but their common usage belies their curious natures….
*many of the words below have more than one form (noun, verb, etc…) and definition; only one form and one definition have been highlighted for the purposes of this list
A – E
Noun | [a-pron]
Common Definition: a garment that covers the front part of the body with an open back
Example: On Thanksgiving, my new white apron had lost all of its luster by dinnertime.
Curious Origins: “Apron” comes from the Middle English word “napron.” In Middle English one would say “a napron.” The repetition and slurring of this phrase made “a napron” become “an apron.”
Noun | [chek–mate]
Common Definition: in chess, a move from which the opponent cannot escape, forcing the game’s end
Example: After a tense few moves, Beth skillfully found and exploited a weakness to achieve a checkmate and win the chess tournament.
Curious Origins: “Checkmate” comes from the Persian “shah” meaning “king” and “mat” meaning “is helpless.” As the game of chess spread throughout the world, others came to believe that “shah mat” came from Arabic and meant “the kind is dead.”
Bonus fact: in Russian “chess” is called “shah-mat-y” (шахматы), coming directly from the Persian word shah mat
Noun | [chef]
Common Definition: a professional cook
Example: The chef, who was trained in Paris, assured us that the quiche lorraine was authentic.
Curious Origins: “Chef” comes from the French word “chef de cuisine,” which means “director of the kitchen.” “Chef” in a few languages has the meaning of “director” or “boss,” in English, the French “chef” is a close equivalent to “chief.” So, in English, the person making your food is “the boss.”
Transitive Verb | [de-sire]
Common Definition: a strong feeling of hope, longing, or craving for something or someone
Example: I desire to live a life full of travel and adventure.
Curious Origins: “Desire” comes from the Latin roots “de” meaning “of” and “sire” meaning “male parent”; the root “sire” in English has also come to mean a person of high status or importance such as a “king.” Therefore “desire” literally means “of the father.”
F – J
Noun | [hys-te-ria]
Common Definition: an excessively emotional state marked by outbursts and excitement, commonly triggered by fear, anger or passion
Example: The man blamed his wife’s bouts of sudden hysteria on the tragic death of their only child.
Curious Origins: “Hysteria” comes from the Greek word “hystera,” meaning “uterus.” The Greeks believed that overly emotional tendencies in women were a result of a “wondering womb,” i.e. the (untrue) idea in medicine that a woman’s uterus could detach, float throughout her body, and wreak havoc on her emotional faculties.
K – O
Noun | [lu-na-tic]
Common Definition: a crazy person (derogatory)
Example: I hear the strangest noises coming from my neighbor’s apartment at all hours; only a lunatic would welcome such a commotion into his home.
Curious Origins: “Lunatic” derives from the Latin word “lunaticus,” which refers to someone who suffers from episodes of madness (notably epilepsy), as a disease thought to be caused by the phases of the money.
P – T
Noun | [quar-an-tine]
Common Definition: a restriction of movement on persons or goods during transport for a period to prevent the spread of contagious disease
Example: Tina was asked to quarantine herself after her arrival from Italy to the U.S. for 14 days in an attempt to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
Curious Origins: “Quarantine” comes from the Latin roots “quadra-,” which may be translated to “four” and the suffix has a root (Italian or Latin — disputed) that means “ten,” which makes “quarantine” mean “a period of 40 days.”
Noun | [sab-bat-i-cal]
Common Definition: a period of paid leave commonly granted to university professors or other workers, in which leisure, study, or travel is undertaken
Example: After several years of service to the University, Professor Nuñez finally decided to take her sabbatical to focus on writing her book.
Curious Origins: “Sabbatical” comes from the the Greek word “sabbatikos,” which means of the “sabbath,” the day of religious observance. This word is also closely related to the Hebrew word “shabbat,” which is the seventh day (rest day). In more precise language, a “sabbatical” is the rest year that is granted every seven years.
Noun | [ro-bot]
Common Definition: a machine (often human-like) that is capable of completing a series of automated complex tasks
Example: The assembly floor of the automobile factory is run 90% by robots.
Curious Origins: “Robot” comes from a translation of Karel Capek’s 1920 play called “Rossum’s Universal Robots.” “Robot” came to English from the Czech root word “robot-,” as found in the words such as “robota” meaning “compulsory labor” and “robotnik” meaning “worker.” Even curiouser, “robota,” meaning labor, comes from the Old Church Slavonic (i.e. the “Latin” of Slavic languages) root “rab,” which means slave. “Robots” are “slave laborers.”
U – Z
Noun | [vod-ka]
Common Definition: a distilled spirit from mash
Example: Vodka cocktails are a staple at bars across the U.S.
Curious Origins: “Vodka” comes from the Russian word “voda,” meaning “water;” “-ka” is a diminutive ending which makes “vodka” literally “little water”
… more words to come 🙂