Where does the word mellifluous come from?

7 words we use every day without knowing where they came from

Illustration by Raúl Soria

Where words come from and how they develop over centuries to their present form - that is the subject of etymology. Not only does this science help us better understand our vocabulary and culture, but it also creates entertaining reminders for foreign words we use every day. Because the etymology always has a good anecdote up its sleeve: Did you know that jeans were actually made in Europe and that the word is Italian through and through?

You can find more about jeans and six other words in the list below. Be amazed where these seven words you use every day actually come from!

Avocado (aztec)

The green vitamin bomb, which you prefer to enjoy pureed in your smoothie or diced in your salad, derives from the word ahuacatl from the Aztec Nahuatl language. The avocado literally means actually - no, no joke - "testicles". Does that seem absurd to you? Well, if you think about the fact that the avocado usually grows in pairs on the tree and that their shape bears a certain resemblance, then the name doesn't seem to have fallen too far from the ... trunk. Yes, the Aztecs showed a sense of humor!

And another little bite: the delicious guacamole was originally called ahuacamolli - a compound word ahuaca, the "avocado", and molli, the "salsa".

Cappuccino (German and Italian)

The popular hot drink that goes with every successful afternoon is the same color as the robes of the Capuchin monks. This similarity is very easy to understand, not only for Italians.

The color association of Wilhelm Tissot was discovered for the first time in Vienna in the late 18th century, who then brewed his own delicious Capuchin coffee - the ancestor of today's cappuccinos. The recipe was registered for a patent in Venice in 1937 and has been refined over time, thanks in part to the invention of the modern coffee machine in the 20th century.

Today we drink the world-famous cappuccino, which fortunately is no longer served with egg whites, but with frothed milk.

Disaster (greek)

We owe the disaster - to whom else - to the ancient Greeks, who also brought us the tragedy.

The word finds its origin in the prefix dis-, which is used for derogatory marking, as well as in the noun asterwhich translates as "star". Put together, disaster literally means "fallen star". This is also reminiscent of the phrase standing under a sinking star, which denotes an approaching disaster.

The ancient Greeks were fascinated by astronomy and convinced that good and bad fate can be read from the course of the stars. From the literal meaning of disaster we read today how the ancient Greeks ascribed a cosmic dimension to their worldly life.


The word used every day today comes from the English expression hand in capwho have favourited the literal hand in the cap. The word has its origin in a 17th century game of chance.

The rules are easy to explain: a certain amount of coins was collected inside a cap, which had to correspond to the value of the object to be won. An impartial game master then had to check whether the amount of money and the value of the property are the same - and if not, how big the difference is. In the latter case, both players quickly put one hand in their hat and grabbed as many coins as possible. If the two did not agree on the yield, they quickly got a fist on the eye instead of a handful of money.

The game has been known since 1653, but the change in meaning to today's use did not take place immediately. First was hand in cap used in various sporting races to express that a teammate in a better starting position had an advantage over the other.

Only marked with time hand in cap a limitation of the body.

Jeans (French and Italian)

Is there any piece of clothing that reminds us more of America than jeans? Hardly likely. And yet it was tailored in Europe and it is also here in Europe where the word finds its origin.

The fabric this fashion dream is made of is very robust cotton that is dyed blue with indigo. In the 19th century, the garment was initially worn by those who had participated in the slave trade or the gold rush.

The real word Jeans is derived from the fact that the almost indestructible material of the trousers comes from the Italian city of Genoa, in Italian Genova. The jeans themselves bear the name of their hometown in their sound.

The word denim however, refers to the origin of the material, which comes from the French city of Nîmes. So the material comes in French de Nîmesthen what about the label denim led.

Triviality (Latin)

Originally the Latin “trivium” denotes a merging of three different streets. Today, triviality is mostly the entertaining but thoroughly banal content of a conversation that is exchanged with one another regardless of the street layout.

At such an important transport hub there were strategically placed markets for buying and selling goods, which were then loudly haggled over. So the word was first used to describe what probably happens in any busy place: people trying to impress and outdo each other.

The adjective trivial - of trivium derived - according to the historian Suetonius, it was used in antiquity to describe something “popular, vulgar, of little importance but widespread”. It seems that in this case the meaning of the word has hardly changed.

Whiskey (Gaelic)

The monks in the monastery already knew that whiskey is a real water of life. That's what they called the drink aqua vitae. When the Latin term was introduced into the Gaelic language, it became uisce beatha. At first it was made uisce the word usqua and finally uiscy - what we all know (and drink) as whiskey today.

Interestingly, the “e” in whiskey has a very specific function: In Ireland and in the USA, the additional letter turned a good whiskey from a bad and cheap one whiskey differentiated.

Also will Scotch used as a short form for Scottish whiskey. In South America is Scotch Incidentally, the word what to say while laughing while a photo is being taken - like cheese.

In the end, it remains a question of taste: does cheese or whiskey make you laugh?