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QUIZ: Can You Guess What These Words Used to Mean?

Edited By: Natalia Jones
 Some words don’t mean what they used to, so much so that it can be difficult to guess what a certain word signified when it first appeared in the language. Since English is an extremely ancient and multicultural language, there are so many words in the English vocabulary that changed their meaning in the course of history. Do you dare try to guess what the following 14 English words originally meant? Fair warning, it’s a challenging one.
food
 
 
Which one of the following used to mean food in general?
Have you ever wondered what the expression “meat and drink” means? It stems from an older meaning of the word "meat" that meant solid food in general, as opposed to drink.
Meat
Potato
Porridge
Breakfast
math
 
 
What field of mathematics originated from the name of a medical technique used to set fractured bones?
Algebra can be translated as ‘reunion’ or ‘restoration’ from Arabic, and it originally referred to a way of mending of bones. The mathematical meaning was secondary and developed much later. This type of ‘mending’ referred to evening out the unknown quantities in an equation.
Algebra
Geometry
Trigonometry
Calculus
clue
 
 
Which Ancient Greek myth changed the meaning of the word ‘clue’?
In the story of the infamous labyrinth and the Minotaur, Ariadne gives Theseus, the hero of the story, a ball (also called a CLEW) of yarn, which he can use to find his way out of the Labyrinth after defeating the Minotaur. This clew of yarn helped the hero to find his way out of a difficult situation, so the word came to mean a hint and was spelled differently with time.
Theseus and the Minotaur
Kind Midas and the golden touch
The Twelve Labours of Hercules
Perseus and Medusa
Chaucer
 
 
Geoffrey Chaucer used the word ‘jargon’ in his writings in 1386. What did he mean by it?
The word "jargon" comes from French, where the same word means ‘to chatter’, and it meant ‘a bird song’ back in the 14th century when it was added to English. Like we can't understand what the meaning of bird songs, the word eventually changed its meaning to any unintelligible language, and not only bird songs.
A bird song
Music
A discussion
Silence
pub
 
 
Which of the following was once a name for an unlicensed pub?
In late 18th century slang, to be “tiddly” meant drunk. With time, both the location and the game that we all know came to carry that meaning.
Tiddlywink
Marble
Darts
Table
animals
 
 
Which one of the following animals actually just meant ‘animal’ in the past?
Deór, the Old English ancestor of the word deer, originally just meant ‘beast’ or ‘animal’. With time, its meaning specified more and more until it came to basically mean Bambi and its family.
Deer
Wolf
Peacock
Giraffe
treadmill
 
 
Who was the original treadmill invented for?
The first treadmills were big man-powered mills that were used as a labor punishment in prisons during the Victorian age.
Prisoners
Children
Actors
Doctors
girl
 
 
Who could you call a girl in Middle English?
Girl used to mean a child or young person of either sex and it is perhaps related to a German dialectal word 'gör' than means ‘child’.
A young person (both male and female)
A young woman
A female cat
A young female (both person and animal)
clock
 
 
A ‘moment’ used to denote quite a definite time. How long did the original moment last?
In mediaeval timekeeping, 1 hour was divided into 4 15-minute-long periods called points, which were then divided into 10 shorter periods called moments, so in the past, a moment was precisely 90 seconds long.
90 seconds
1 hour
1 second
5 minutes
bullfighter
 
 
Of these 4 words all denoting fanatics, which one originally meant an amateur bullfighter?
Aficionado has the common latin root with the word ‘affection’ and it comes from Spanish. So, it was first used to refer to those who like bullfighting. Centuries later, this word shifted to meaning an expert, how nice and optimistic!
Aficionado
Expert
Connoisseur
Fan
church
 
 
One of the following words used to mean "to break church rules" in a dialect of Scots. Which one?
According to a 1808 Dictionary of the Scottish Language, ‘skulduggery’ or ‘sculduddery’, is defined as ‘those causes that come under the judgment of an ecclesiastical court which respect some breach of chastity’.
Skulduggery
Chicanery
Hanky-panky
Swashbuckling
horse grooming
 
 
Which of these common expressions used to literally mean ‘to groom a chestnut horse’?
In French, from which this saying originated, to ‘curry’ literally means ‘to groom’, whereas favour refers to Favvel, a chestnut-coloured rebellious horse from French that couldn’t be tamed.
To curry favour
To spin a cat
To steal thunder
To pop your clogs
cloud
 
 
Cloud didn’t mean ‘cloud’ in Old English. What did it refer to?
The modern word ‘cloud’ comes from the Old English word ‘clúd’, which meant ‘rock’ or ‘mass of stone’. Since heavy grey rain clouds do resemble rocks, the meaning gradually shifted to mean what it does today.
Rock
Fire
Wind
Rain
question
 
 
What, quite literally, is ‘bumph’?
A bumph is a shortened version of the word "bum-fodder", an early word for toilet paper. Slowly, it came to mean anything unimportant that can be thrown away, such as trashy literature, and with time, it gained the meaning of a convoluted text or paperwork. Quite ironic, we know.
Toilet paper
A baby's diapers
Bandages
Underwear
Try Again!
surprised dog
 
Are you as surprised as this cute collie to find out that your score is not as high as you expected? No worries, it must be a mistake, just try again, or simply learn all of these word origins by looking at your results.
Nearly perfect!
well done
 
You can definitely surprise a few people at parties with your knowledge of the English language, but you're not quite on expert level yet. Look through the results to learn even more about a few more interesting word origins.
You're the best!
champion
 
You have a perfect command of the English language and know a lot about language history as well. Flawless victory!
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