Where words come from is a fascinating subject, full of folklore and historical lessons. Often, popular tales of a word’s origin arise. Sometimes these are true; more often they are not. While it often seems disappointing when a neat little tale turns out to be untrue, almost invariably the true origin is just as interesting.

Some samples:

  • Hacker: The earliest known use of the term is from the 20 November 1963 issue of The Tech, the student paper of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology…
  • Third Degree: The phrase comes from freemasonry. To become a Third-Degree or Master Mason, the highest rank, one must submit to questioning. The questioning associated with a Third-Degree Mason dates to at least 1772.
  • Pull the Wool Over His Eyes: The wool refers to a powdered wig. To pull the wool down over a man’s eyes is to temporarily blind him. The phrase is an Americanism, dating to at least 1839.

The Online Etymology Dictionary and Take Our Word For It are other good resources.

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