An etymological word game

by David

What would you answer to the following question:

What is the origin of the word bellwether?

  • A. From Wales, where the bell-carrying male sheep is called a wether
  • B. In old days, when church bells were harbingers of upcoming bad weather
  • C. From French, belle ‘good’ + wetchere ‘announcement’

I answered (A), and it was one of the five (out of ten) questions I answered correctly at Etymologic, the self-proclaimed “toughest word game on the web”.

This etymology game pulls ten randomly selected word origin questions from a database, and you have to answer where the word or phrase presented to you originates. It gives you multiple choice answers, and you choose one of them. Some are quite entertaining. Try this one on for size.

We have all heard the phrase Rule of Thumb, but where did it originate?

  • A. Samuel Adams, Legendary beer brewer, would always dip his thumb into a newly brewed batch of beer and taste it for approval before allowing it to be sold.
  • B. In the early 1900’s men were allowed to commit domestic violence upon their spouse as long as the object used for beating was no thicker than his thumb.
  • C. Christopher Columbus would use his licked thumb to determine the direction of the wind before setting sail into sea.
  • D. Not so colorful at all: the width of the base of the thumb was a common measure in the 17th and 18th century.

Easy to deduce if you know the Spanish for inch is pulgada…

I enjoyed this quick little game, even though it proved my etymological ineptness proclaiming when I finished the test: “You got 5 answers correct out of 10 questions asked”


And now, te toca a tí. Pero aguas, todas las posibles respuestas parecen muy factibles.

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