Spooky Syntax: Frankenwords

Posted on Oct 24, 2018

Everything has an origin story. Be it man or monster, everything comes from something. Surprisingly, this is not true for all the words in the English language. Below is a list of English words that seemed to have popped out of nowhere, much like Dr. Frankenstein’s homemade monster.

Dr. Frankenstein

  1. Boy

    In the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, the word gurle/gyrle was used to indicate children of either gender. The word knave would precede it to indicate that the “girl” was male, so a "knave girl" would be a male child. It is possible that female children were just referred to as “girls,” and later on, the word girl adapted to mean “female child.” However, the word boy being used for male children has no proper source.

  2. Codswallop

    It sort of makes sense that this word has no origin, considering that the word means “nonsense.” The closest origin that the word has is Hiram Codd, a soft-drink maker who developed a bottling technique called Codd’s Bottle. How that technique became an expression for anything that’s gibberish is anybody’s guess.

  3. Dog

    The word hound comes from the Germanic word hund, which is a word for growling. Dog just mysteriously replaced hound in the late Middle Ages, and no one knows how. Dog may be one of the first words that we learn in the English language, but no one actually knows where it came from.

  4. Freak

    The word freak has no proper origin, but many guesses have been made. One theory is it comes from the Middle English word frek, which means “eager,” “zealous,” “bold,” “brave,” or “fierce,” adjectives which can be used to describe a freak. Another theory is that it comes from the Scottish word freik, meaning “a bold warrior, a man.” Then again, no one knows for sure.

  5. Gizmo

    The word gizmo is a synonym for gadget and was first used in the 1940s. Much like how Ariel has no idea how her thingamabobs work, no one knows exactly why gizmo is a word. The word was coined by the marines and the navy as a word for any old thing that you can name.

  6. Nitty-gritty

    We seem to get down to the nitty-gritty plenty of times, but does anybody really know what nitty-gritty actually is? The word was coined in the twentieth century and seemed to be a form of secret slang used by people in the slave trade. That at least explains why we “get down” to it.

  7. Rogue

    A rogue is a trickster or a villainous person. The word rogue was coined in the sixteenth century. The word has no recognized origin, but some guess that it comes from the Old English word roger (pronounced with a hard g), meaning “idle vagrant.”

  8. Shenanigan

    Whoever came up with this word is definitely up to some mischief. Some theorize that the word shenanigan first appeared in the nineteenth century and came from the Spanish charranada (trick or deceit), the German schenigelei (work or craft), or the Irish sionnach (fox).

  9. Tantrum

    The word appeared in print for the first time in 1714 with no real root. No one has even tried guessing where it came from. No one even knows why it’s something that you can throw.

  10. Zit

    Probably the youngest of the words on this list, the word zit was first popularized in the 1960s as a synonym to pimple. Where it came from, no one really knows. Some say it could have come from another English slang word, chit, which means “pimple” or “wart,” or the German term zitze, which means “teat” or “nipple.”

These are only ten of hundreds of “frankenwords” in the English language. Have an idea of what we should write about next? Share your thoughts and shoot us a message! This Halloween season, we’re highlighting the unlikely horrors of language and literature. Watch out for more on our blog!


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