Playlist TED-Ed

Attention word nerds: 13 mysteries of the vernacular, solved

Before a ‘clue’ became a thing that excited a detective, the word referred to a ball of yarn. So how did this shift in meaning occur? Because in Greek mythology, Ariadne threw a ball of yarn to Theseus before he entered the minotaur’s labyrinth. Theseus unrolled the yarn behind him as he traveled into the deadly maze — then used it to find his way out.

Word derivation trivia is always fun to unleash at a party. And you’ll find lots more of it in the TED-Ed series Mysteries of the Vernacular, from Jessica Oreck and Rachael Teel. Each lesson in this dictionary-thumping series tells the unusual origin story of a common word. In the end, there will be 26 lessons total– one representing each letter of the alphabet.

Because the series has reached its halfway point, with 13 lessons out so far, we thought it was high time to share them with you. Below, find the words explored up to now. And keep your eyes peeled (hmmm, I wonder what that expression is all about?) to TED-Ed for more enlightening entries.

  1. What the word gorgeous has to do with turtlenecks
  2. How the word window came from a clever metaphor
  3. The strange derivation of the tuxedo
  4. How Alfred Nobel invented dynamite
  5. Why venom once meant ‘something to be desired’
  6. The riddle of the word earwig
  7. Why the word inaugurate is for the birds
  8. How noise, nausea and naval are all related
  9. The story of the word pants
  10. Why the origin of the word miniature isn’t so small
  11. What a hearse was before a vehicle for the dead
  12. The word assassin’s roots in hash
  13. And, as previously mentioned, why you could once knit with a clue