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Attention, dictionary nerds: here is list of words with surprising shared etymologies.

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June 15, 2021, 3:05pm

It’s finally happening. We’re re-entering casual society en masse, which means we’re going to need some better small talk than “Did you cut your own hair or just let your hair grow?” And since I find that etymology can actually make for some pretty good low-stakes party chat (depending on the party, of course), I was delighted to come across this list of surprising shared etymologies, compiled by Daniel de Haas.

de Haas defines “surprising” having a shared etymological history, but unrelated definitions—like “educate” and “subdue,” which both derive from the Latin “duco,” meaning “lead.”

My personal favorite trio is “cancer” & “cancel” & “chancellor,” all of which come from the Greek “karkinos,” meaning crab. de Haas writes:

“Cancer” was applied to tumors because the swollen veins around a tumor were said to look like a crab.

“Cancer” had an alternative meaning, “enclosure” (which is, historically, where the meaning “crab” was derived, because of the way a crab’s pincers form a circle). This alternative meaning helped the word evolve into the Latin “cancellus”—a barrier dividing two parts of a building. Applied metaphorically, this eventually became the English “cancel.”

“Chancellor” comes from the Latin “cancellarius,” originally a court official who, wanting to be separated from the public, stood on one side of a cancellus.

The whole thing is worth a look, but I already have my new piece of party small talk: starting a petition to change Cancel Culture to Crab Culture, effective immediately.

[h/t Kottke]

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