Reading Test: Word Origins in the English language II

See also: The Restaurant, the History of Israel, Phoenicia, Darwin, Beautiful National Places I, Beautiful National Places II, Barcelona, Delicious Desserts, Coldest Places where People Live, Beautiful National Wonders, Planets of Our Solar System, Word Origins in the English Language I, Word Origins in the English Language II, Bitcoin, Europe’s Smallest Countries, World’s Largest Countries, The Oldest Cities in the World, The World’s Most Beautiful Islands, Hurricane Fred, The Faithful Mongoose, Hungry Wolf, Elephant and Friends, A Friend in need is a friend indeed, How to make Apple Butter, How to make perfect hard boiled eggs and The restaurant.


Read the story and answer the questions.

Learning the origin of every new word you acquire is the best way to really understand how the language works, and to ease the future process of learning.

More precisely, multiple words in English often take the same Latin or Greek prefix (letters at the beginning of a word, like pre-, meaning “before”) or the same suffix (what comes at the end of a word, like –less, meaning “without”), so by knowing what they are and where they come from, you can better understand many new words at once.

New Words in English
English is not only constantly changing, but is also always growing. In only one year, the Oxford English Dictionary adds around 500 new words and phrases. That means hundreds of new words that even native speakers have to learn!
One such word added in 2016 is levain, a noun which means “a substance used to produce fermentation in dough”. This word is borrowed from French in its original form, but it derives from Latin levo, a verb meaning “soften or mitigate” (to mitigate means to make something less harmful).
Yet, some words added to the dictionary are completely new, usually invented by young people and used in the urban spoken language. The word vom, which is short for “vomit” has become a slang commonly used not just when a person is vomiting, but also when somebody is sick. The Oxford English Dictionary recognized it both as a verb and a noun in 2016.
Another example: chillax means “to calm down and relax” (a combination of chill and relax). This is an example of how a lot of people talk these days. But although it now appears in dictionaries, this new word is not always appropriate. In academic, business or scientific writing, it’s best to avoid using it.

As a verb, “check” means to take a close look at something, or verify it. The word appeared in the 1300s and was used to describe a call which notes that a move placed the opponent’s king in danger in the popular game of chess.

As such, it came from Old French eschequier, meaning “a check at chess”, and eschec which is how the French call chess.

However, few people know this French word, too, was borrowed, and that it was inspired by the Persian word shah meaning “king”.

Initially, the English word “check” was used only to describe a harmful incident or some danger, but it later came to mean “examining something to see if it is good enough, safe or correct”, slowly becoming one of the most commonly used verbs in English.

Tattoos are drawings on a person’s body made by inserting ink or dyes, and can be either temporary or indelible (permanent).

Tattoo is also one of the few words which the English language borrowed from Polynesian. Polynesian is the language of the people of Polynesia. Polynesia is a group of over one thousand islands in the central and southern Pacific Ocean. The name comes from Greek poly (many) + nesos (island).

The word tatau in Polynesian means “to write”. The first reference to the word “tattoo” was found in the journal of Joseph Banks, a British explorer working on Captain Cook’s ship (Captain Cook was a British explorer who sailed and mapped much of the South Pacific).

When Cook came back to England from Tahiti (an island in Polynesia) in 1769, he spoke about tattaw native people had on their bodies. (Nearly everyone in ancient Polynesian society was tattooed.)

Before this word entered the dictionary, English-speaking people described this concept as painting or staining.

The word “disaster”, used to describe a serious disruption or an event with grave consequences, traveled a long way to the English language.

The word “disaster”, used to describe a serious disruption or an event with grave consequences, traveled a long way to the English language. It is closely tied to the French désastre, which itself has roots in Old Italian disastro, but the Italians adopted this word from Greek.

The prefix dis- together with aster, meaning “star” in Greek, can be interpreted as “a bad star”. The explanation for why a bad star equals disaster is found in the ancient Greek’s fascination with astronomy and the universe. Therefore, for them, an unfavorable alignment of planets and stars in the sky was seen as particularly dangerous.

The way these unique black and white birds got their name is still contested. It is possible that the word “penguin” originates from the Welsh language, in which pen means “head” and gwyn means “white”.

There are written records which show that an expedition, which sailed around the world from 1577 to 1580, found these birds at the tip of South America. The Welsh men on the ship called them “pengwins”.

Some people also suggest that it might have come from Latin pinguis, which means “fat”. Considering the cold climate penguins live in, being fat sure serves them well, as the layers of fat protect them from the cold and also serve as a valuable energy store.

Nowadays, salary is money received for work, usually weekly or monthly. The word itself comes from the Latin word salarium, which actually means “payment for salt”.

In ancient times, salt was so valuable, it was referred to as “white gold”. Salt was not only used for food, but also to treat wounds, which is why sal, meaning “salt”, and salud/salute, meaning “health” (in Spanish/Italian), are so similar.

In the ancient Egyptian kingdom, workers were often paid with salt, which they used to preserve their food.


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