What if I were to tell you that words you thought you knew the meaning of are completely incorrect? Well, okay, that’s not true. They’re correct today, but certain words had completely different definitions a long time ago. They have long been led astray from their origins. Here are seven words that had completely different denotations in the past. All of the following examples can be found Paul Anthony Jones’ The Accidental Dictionary.

  1. Alcohol: Alcohol originally meant eyeliner or black powder. “Alcohol” is originally an Arabic word that comes from “al-kohl” or “kohl.” Alcohol has since evolved into being a concentrated liquid or a type of drink.
  2. Eavesdrop: To eavesdrop means to snoop or spy on someone or something, right? Well, that’s what the word evolved into during the time period of Late Middle English. Prior to Late Middle English, the word “eavesdrop” meant “the ground on to which waters drips from the eaves.”
  3. Grin: Grin used to mean to snarl or bare your teeth at someone. Whilst the latter isn’t too far away from the action itself today in terms of the fact that teeth are sometimes shown, it was typically used in the context of being tantamount to a fake smile or to show distaste.
  4. Jargon: Jargon used to mean “birdsong” and is originally French. Jargon nowadays refers to a lexicon or lingo that is native to a specific field or area. For instance, doctors have their own jargon in the world of medicine, as do psychologists.  
  5. Naughty: Naughty is derived from the 15th century “nought-y” or “naught”, which essentially means “having nothing.” It could also be used in the context of describing individuals who have no morals.
  6. Pink: Pink used to be a color that was a dark or greenish yellow.
  7. Tweezers: Tweezers is derived of French, namely French and Old French. We know tweezers to be a tool that is employed in picking up small objects or particles or a tool used to pluck something. It can also be a surgical instrument. In the past, however, tweezers was translated to being a “prison”, “to shut up”, or “to keep.”

I found this article or this piece to be very interesting due to my being a logophile and also due to my interest in History or the past. If referring strictly to words, there’s also the word “chaos”, which we know means havoc or disorder. However, it is derived from the Greek “khaos”, which meant “to open.” I find it extremely interesting how things can rapidly change or evolve. I also find it interesting and somewhat saddening that some of these things lose all trace of their past at times or the past is not known.

By Maya Abou El Nasr


Rentoul, John. “The Top 10: Accidental Etymologies.” The Independent. Independent Digital News and Media, n.d. Web. accidental-etymologies-a7360961.html