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16 Latin Question Words Hiding in the English Language

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Latin is ubiquitous in English. As Dictionary.com observes, “About 80 percent of the entries in any English dictionary are borrowed, mainly from Latin.” That even includes some of ancient Rome’s most nut-and-bolts words, like quid, “what,” quis, “who,” and the ubi in ubiquitous, meaning “where.” Here are 16 English words constructed from some of the most basic building blocks of the Latin language.

1. QUALITY

Quality derives from the Latin qualitas, “character” or “essential nature.” The great Roman statesman Cicero coined it, on the basis of qualis (“of what kind”), to translate a word the Greek philosopher Plato himself created: poiotes, “suchness.”

2. QUANTITY

A quantity is the “amount” of something, just like its Latin root, quantitas. This word is formed from quantus, “how much,” also the source of quantum.

3. QUIDDITY

No, this word doesn’t size up your Quidditch skills. It literally means “whatness,” formed from the Latin quid, or “what.” Quiddity was introduced as a philosophical term in the Middle Ages for “what makes a thing what it is.” In the 16th century, English writers apparently mocked scholars’ overuse of the term, turning it into a term for a quibble.

4. QUIBBLE

Speaking of quibbles, the earliest sense of quibble, recorded in the 1610s, is as a “pun” or “play on words.” The word not long after took on its modern sense of an “objection to a trivial matter.” Quibble appears to be a diminutive form of the older quib, “an evasion of a point at issue.” The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) suggests quib comes from the Latin quibus (“by what things”), a form of quid (“what”), “a word of frequent occurrence in legal documents and hence associated with the length and unnecessary complexity of legal documents.”

5. QUIP

Originally a “sarcastic remark” before softening to a “witticism,” quip might be from the Latin quippe, apparently used much like “Oh really?” Quippe is also based on quid (“what”), the neuter form of quis (“who”).

6. QUIDNUNC

A quidnunc is a fancy word for a “gossiper.” It’s from the Latin quid nunc, literally “what now,” which clever English speakers adopted for the incessant questioning of a nosy person.

7. QUID

We’ve seen Latin’s quid (“what”) already in a number of words. It may also be responsible for the British slang quid, or “one pound sterling,” used much as the American English buck. One of the leading explanations is that quid is shortened from the Latin expression quid pro quo, “one thing for another,” or an exchange, hence its application to money.

8. QUANDARY

The origin of quandary is, well, quite a quandary. A number of etymologists have proposed quandary as a quasi-Latin expression for some kind of dilemma of donation: quantum dare (“How much to give?”), quando dare (“When to give?”), or quam dare (“How to give?”).

9. CUE

The Latin quando (“when”) may also be the source of cue, which signals an actor to begin their lines. A 1553 letter, among other examples in the 16th and 17th centuries, refers to a Q marked in actor’s text of a play, which has been explained as an abbreviation for a Latin word such as quando, or “when” the actor should start.

10. QUOTIENT

In mathematics, a quotient is what you get when you divide. The word is from the Latin quotiens, “how many times,” i.e., how many times one number goes into another.

11. QUOTE

The base of Latin’s quotiens is quot, “how many.” From this, Medieval Latin formed a verb, quotare, “to mark chapters” or “mark a book with numbers.” This is also what quote first meant when it was borrowed into English in the late 14th century. It evolved to “reproduce a passage from a book” to “give as a reference, support, or source” to “repeat or copy out exact words.”

12. QUOTIDIAN

Quot also shows up in quotidian, which is something “happening every day,” hence “ordinary.” It’s from the Latin quotidianus, which joined quot (“how many”) and dies (“day”).

13. QUORUM

A quorum is the minimum number of people who must be present at an assembly, a word we typically hear in the context of legislatures. It literally means “of whom” in Latin, and was originally used by 15th-century commissions in official language appointing select justices of the peace, who had to be present for a court session to be considered valid.

14. UBIQUITY

Latin roots have been ubiquitous in this post, or “everywhere.” Ubiquity was coined—on the model of Latin’s ubique, “anywhere” or “everywhere”—in the 16th century for a Christian theological doctrine that held God as omnipresent.

15. HIDALGO

So far, most of the words haven’t been hiding their “who” and “what” Latin roots. Not so for the final two. Hidalgo, a Spanish term for a “gentleman” and the name of a state in Mexico, is contracted from hijo de algo, “son of something” (think, a real someone). The algo comes from Latin’s aliquis, “anyone” or “someone,” which quis we previously saw in quip.

16. KICKSHAW

Finally, and most surprisingly, we have kickshaw, a “fancy but unsubstantial food dish.” This lively word is from the French quelque chose, “a little something.” As the OED explains, a kickshaw, adopted in the late 16th century, “was ‘something’ French, not one of the known ‘substantial’ English dishes.” The quelque in quelque chose goes back to the Latin qualis—the same qualis, to bring things full circle, we saw in quality.

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'Froyo,' 'Troll,' and 'Sriracha' Added to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary
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Looking for the right word to describe the time you spend drinking before heading out to a party, or a faster way to say “frozen yogurt?" Merriam-Webster is here to help. The 189-year-old English vocabulary giant has just added 250 new words and definitions to their online dictionary, including pregame and froyo.

New words come and go quickly, and it’s Merriam-Webster’s job to keep tabs on the terms that have staying power. “As always, the expansion of the dictionary mirrors the expansion of the language, and reaches into all the various cubbies and corners of the lexicon,” they wrote in their announcement.

Froyo is just one of the recent additions to come from the culinary world. Bibimbap, a Korean rice dish; choux pastry, a type of dough; and sriracha, a Thai chili sauce that’s been around for decades but has just recently exploded in the U.S., are now all listed on Merriam-Webster's website.

Of course, the internet was once again a major contributor to this most recent batch of words. Some new terms, like ransomware (“malware that requires the victim to pay a ransom to access encrypted files”) come from the tech world, while words like troll ("to harass, criticize, or antagonize [someone] especially by provocatively disparaging or mocking public statements, postings, or acts”) were born on social media. Then there’s the Internet of Things, a concept that shifts the web off our phones and computers and into our appliances.

Hive mind, dog whistle, and working memory are just a few of the new entries to receive the Merriam-Webster stamp of approval. To learn more about how some words make it into the dictionary while others get left out, check these behind-the-scenes secrets of dictionary editors.

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How New Words Become Mainstream
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If you used the words jeggings, muggle, or binge-watch in a sentence 30 years ago, you would have likely been met with stares of confusion. But today these words are common enough to hold spots in the Oxford English Dictionary. Such lingo is a sign that English, as well as any other modern language, is constantly evolving. But the path a word takes to enter the general lexicon isn’t always a straightforward one.

In the video below, TED-Ed lays out how some new words become part of our everyday speech while others fade into obscurity. Some words used by English speakers are borrowed from other languages, like mosquito (Spanish), avatar (Sanskrit), and prairie (French). Other “new” words are actually old ones that have developed different meanings over time. Nice, for example, used to only mean silly, foolish, or ignorant, and meat was used as blanket term to describe any solid food given to livestock.

The internet alone is responsible for a whole new section of our vocabulary, but even the words most exclusive to the web aren’t always original. For instance, the word meme was first used by Richard Dawkins in his 1976 book The Selfish Gene.

To learn more about the true origins of the words we use on a regular basis, check out the full story from TED-Ed below.

[h/t TED-Ed]

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