Editing for Grammarphobes 2.0: Etymology Fun


Every Wednesday, Editing for Grammarphobes 2.0 features handy tips to enhance all of our writing, from daily emails to articles to books. After all, everyone needs to write, right?

Fellow word nerds, it's time for an etymology post. Do you know how these words and phrases came to be?

Throw down the gauntlet

A gauntlet is a chain mail glove worn with medieval armor to protect one’s hand. In the days of chivalry and combat, when a gauntlet was thrown to the ground, it meant that knight was challenging his opponent to a fight. If the gauntlet was picked up by the opposing knight, the challenge was accepted.


According to an interesting blog by the Oxford Royale Academy*, the word palace has its origins from Rome. "It comes from one of Rome’s famous Seven Hills, the Palatine, upon which the emperor resided in what grew into a sprawling and opulent home," according to the blog. It goes on to say that in Latin, the Palatine Hill was called the “Palatium," and the word "Palatine" came to refer to the emperor’s residence, rather than the actual hill. According to the blog, the word became incorporated into English via Old French, through word “palais.”


Another interesting anecdote from the Oxford Royale Academy states the sandwich is named after the 4th Earl of Sandwich, John Montagu. "The story goes that 250 years ago, the 18th-century aristocrat requested that his valet bring him beef served between two slices of bread. He was fond of eating this meal whilst playing card games, as it meant that his hands wouldn’t get greasy from the meat and thus spoil the cards," the blog states. "Observing him, Montagu’s friends began asking for 'the same as Sandwich,' and so the sandwich was born. Though people did eat bread with foods such as cheese and meat before this, these meals were known as 'bread and cheese' or 'bread and meat.'" And the Earl's name is spelled Montagu, not Montague, like the Bard's Romeo.


The word vandalism originally refers to the Vandals, a Germanic people who sacked Rome in 455 under the leadership of Genseric, who was also known as Gaiseric or Geiseric. The Vandals' name has remained a synonym for willful destruction.

*The Oxford Royale Academy is Oxford's summer school program for high school kids. The blog post, "14 of the Most Fascinating Word Origins in the English Language," features more delightful stories on the origins of words such as dunce, berserk, and ketchup. To read the entire piece, click here.

Photos courtesy of WikiMedia Commons.

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These five books are on my desk at all times. Maybe they'll help you as well.

The Associated Press Stylebook, 2016 edition
The Chicago Manual of Style
Strunk and White's The Elements of Style
Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, 11th edition
The Bugaboo Review: A lighthearted guide to exterminating confusion about words, spelling, and grammar


A professional writer/editor for almost 30 years, Karen Wojcik Berner's wide and varied experience includes such topics as grammar, blog content, book reviews, corporate communications, the arts, paint and coatings, real estate, the fire service, writing and literature, research, and publishing. An award-winning journalist, her work has appeared in several magazines, newspapers, and blogs, including the Chicago Tribune, Writer Unboxed, Women's Fiction Writers, Naperville Magazine, and Fresh Fiction. She also is the author of three contemporary women's fiction novels and is a member of the Chicago Writers’ Association. For more information on Karen, please visit www.karenberner.com.


Anonymous said…
I guess that being an Earl of Sandwich sounds a bit silly today. :)
Hope he gets a good manor home at least.
This made me think of the Sandwich Islands. My daughter did a report on them last year.
Chrys Fey said…
So the Earl of Sandwich is the one we have to thank for the name. I found all of this fascinating. Thanks for sharing, Karen! i hope you are well. :)

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