Words at Play

13 Words from All Over the Map

Some words tell you exactly where they're coming from


noun 1 : a plant (Brassica oleracea gemmifera) related to the cabbage and cauliflower that is cultivated for its edible small roundish green buds which are borne on its stem and resemble miniature cabbages 2 : any of the edible green buds that are borne on the stems of brussels sprouts, consist of tightly overlapping immature leaves, and are typically cooked as a vegetable

This word can be styled with either a lowercase or capital B, but Brussels sprouts links this word clearly to the capital of Belgium, a country in which these formerly typically abused (by boiling) and currently often glorified (by deep-frying) darlings of the culinary world were possibly grown as early as 1200. The first recorded description of brussels sprouts dates to 1587, but English speakers didn't say much of anything about them, that we can tell, until the late 18th century. This surely would have been otherwise if the deep fryer had been invented sooner (which of course is true of so many things).


adjective 1 : made typically of soft wool and woven or printed with colorful curved abstract figures 2 : marked by designs, patterns, or figures typically used in paisley fabrics

The typical paisley pattern sings sweetly to the soul of punctuation lovers everywhere, its colorful abstract figures evoking swollen commas. Our word comes from the name of a town in Scotland.

Around 1800, patterned shawls of cashmere imported from India were all the rage in Britain. The luxuriously soft shawls, made from the downy undercoat that cashmere goats (named for the Kashmir region of the Indian subcontinent) are lucky enough to come by naturally, were in such great demand that a manufacturer in Paisley, Scotland, decided to get in on the game. The machine-woven shawls produced in Paisley were made of silk and cotton and, later, wool, and they sported modified versions of the abstract, curvilinear figures featured on the Indian shawls, those designs themselves deriving ultimately from art of the Mogul dynasty of 16th-18th century northern India.

Photo: mrtom-uk

noun : a pungent sauce whose ingredients include soy, vinegar, and garlic

Worcestershire sauce, which is also called Worcestershire, was originally made in Worcestershire, England. Though the sauce itself likely dates to the early 1800s, our first evidence of the term in use currently dates to 1843.

The word is pronounced with blatant disregard for its second syllable: play .


noun 1 a : a woman's scanty two-piece bathing suit b : a man's brief swimsuit 2 : a man's or woman's low-cut briefs

Before bikini referred to something worn, it referred to a lovely atoll of the Marshall Islands. Sadly, the bathing suit did not come by its name because it was the preferred bathing costume of the people of Bikini. A French fashion designer dubbed the scanty two-piece a "bikini" after a US Army-Navy task force detonated two thermonuclear bombs there in 1946.


noun 1 : a perfumed liquid composed of alcohol and fragrant oils 2 : a cream or paste of cologne sometimes formed into a semisolid stick

The scented solution known as cologne takes its name from Cologne, Germany, where it was first manufactured. (The name is short for Cologne water, a translation of the French eau de Cologne). We recommend that you take care not to misspell this word as colon. That word refers to the part of the large intestine that extends from the cecum to the rectum; it is not widely known for its pleasant smell.


noun : a deep-fried chicken wing coated with a spicy sauce and usually served with a blue cheese dressing

The citizens of Buffalo, New York, appreciate it when people capitalize the B, but buffalo wing can be styled either way. Although Buffalonians could scarf down buffalo wings at a place called the Anchor Bar as far back as 1964, the term buffalo wing didn't become established for another two decades.


noun 1 : a stout coarse shoe : brogan 2 : an inexpensive slender cylindrical cigar; broadly : cigar

These days, stogie is most familiar as a term for a cigar, but before it was something for chomping on, a stogie was something for tromping and stomping in; it referred to a kind of shoe. The stogie shoe was heavy and rough and worn by stogie-smoking men (the cigar stogie is only a few decades younger than the shoe) who drove Conestoga wagons pulled by Conestoga horses, which came by their name by way of their town of origin, Conestoga, Pennsylvania. Conestoga, Pennsylvania, came by its name by way of a people who lived in the region for thousands of years before the wagons and the horses and the shoes and the cigars arrived. The Iroquoian-speaking Conestoga people, also known as the Susquehannock or Susquehanna, traditionally lived in parts of what are now New York, Pennsylvania, and Maryland.


noun : the act or sport of performing turns in skiing in which the outside ski is advanced considerably ahead of the other ski and then turned inward at a steadily widening angle until the turn is completed : the act or sport of performing telemarks

No telemarketers were hurt in the making of this word; it's from the Telemark region of Norway. If you're lucky when you're telemarking, though, your cell phone is out of range, making you unreachable for telemarketers.


noun 1 a : ground beef b : a patty of ground beef 2 : a sandwich consisting of a patty of hamburger in a split typically round bun

The cookouts of early 19th-century America were vastly different from the cookouts of today, most importantly in that you couldn't invite anyone over for hamburgers. The word hamburger dates (in English) to the late 19th century. It means "of Hamburg," Hamburg being a port city of northern Germany.


: a cured cooked sausage (as of beef or beef and pork) that may be skinless or stuffed in a casing

American cookouts were likewise devoid of anything called a frankfurter until the late 19th century. The word frankfurter is German for "of Frankfurt," with Frankfurt (also called "Frankfurt am Main") being a city in western Germany.

Evidence of the word hot dog, from 1884, currently predates the earliest known evidence of frankfurter in English by three years. Either one in a bun is, of course, a sandwich.


noun : a small finch (Serinus canaries synonym S. canaria) of the Canary Islands that is usually greenish to yellow and is kept as a cage bird and singer

The canary is named for the Canary Islands, not the other way around. The Canary Islands sit in the Atlantic Ocean off the northwestern coast of Africa and are a Spanish territory. The canary bird is native to the Canary, Azores, and Madeira islands. (The name of the Canary Islands traces back to Late Latin Canariae insulae, meaning "dog islands," because the Roman scholar Pliny the Elder had reason to believe there were lots of big dogs there.)


noun : a mineral CoSO4.7H2O consisting of hydrous cobalt sulfate occurring especially in pale red crusts and stalactites

We'll forgive you for thinking this word was born out of the abiding passions of fans of a certain pop phenom. It has nothing to do with Justin Bieber. Bieberite takes its name from the town of Bieber, in Hesse, Germany. Which we assume has its share of Biebs fans too.

epsom salt word from around the map

noun : a bitter colorless or white crystalline salt MgSO4·7H2O that is a hydrated magnesium sulfate with cathartic properties

With a first element not to be confused with Epson, the name of a Japanese electronics company known for its printers (among other things), Epsom salt refers to something you might pour into your bath or sprinkle on your houseplants. It takes its name from the Epsom & Ewell district of Surrey, England, where mineral springs rich in magnesium sulfate were discovered in the early 17th century. The Epsom part is derived from Ebba's ham or Ebbi's ham, referring to the Saxon-era estate or home of a landowner apparently named Ebb, Ebbi, Ebbe, or Ebba.

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