Epiphanies about the meanings of words and phrases

When I was a kid, I thought you kept your clothes in Chester drawers. It was years before I realized the term was “chest of drawers”.

“Drawers” is one of those words that starts to look wrong when you stare at it. I had to look it up to make sure I was spelling it right.

Oh. Well, don’t I feel foolish. :smack:

Thanks for that! I just read it to my cow-orker and we simultaneously slapped our foreheads saying ,“D’oh!”

Reminds me of…

I used to think “penultimate” meant something like the pinnacle or the very best. I didn’t realize until I started taking Greek in college and was learning about ultimate and penultimate syllables that “penultimate” means “next to last.” :smack:

The thing is, I know I’m not the only person who was ever clueless about that word. I still see people use it wrong on a regular basis.

Except that it’s usually used to indicate that the goal has almost been reached. It means “next to last” because the goal is the last.

I heard it as a croquet term. The very last peg in croquet is called the “ultimate”. Hit the ultimate first, and you win. The “penultimate” is the last peg before the “ultimate”. So really, “penultimate” means “almost there”.

I learned all about this in a novel called A Rush On the Ultimate a mystery novel by H.R.F. Keating which I read back in 1985.

The way O’Brian strings together words and phrases so precisely and exactly lead me from one literary epiphany to the next. I wish I could communicate as effectively in everyday life like that.

Niece looks like nice, as in “little girls are made of sugar and spice and everything nice”.

Also, nephew contains the word he, which can serve to remind you that a nephew is male.

I’ll be damned. Who knew?

I had often wondered, during the course of my formative years, how in the world John, Juan, and Ivan could all be the “same” name. Then one day, when I was in high school, I was playing around with writing things in Roman style – replacing J with I and U with V, etc. And I wrote out the name “Juan”. It came out IVAN. I was utterly and complely stunned.

I thought the origin of the expression, “the die is cast” had to do with making a mold. Something’s already molded, you can’t change it. For some reason, when I was watching Pirates 2 last week, I realized the origin was probably gambling…Die being the singular form for dice and cast meaning thrown. Geez, I always make things more complicated! :smack:

I knew I was ready to be a teenager when I figured out the difference between ‘masticating’ and ‘masturbating’. :eek:

[Bigger pedant] Actually, Portland was one toss of the coin from being Boston. And both of the choices were hometowns of the two men involved in the coin toss. [/bigger pedant]

That one about the old maids was new to me, too, btw.

Yep, chester drawers here, too.

My latest epiphany: I thought epitome meant “the best that could be achieved”, then I found it it meant “a typical example”.

The “epi” part of epidermis means “outer,” right?

A “tome” is a big book, right?

So, “epitome” is the cover of a big book, right? No.

I used to think the word “detrimental” meant profoundly good. Instead it’s the exact opposite. DOH !

The meanings behind painstaking and old maid were new to me too…


Re: ‘the die is cast’, it’s an English translation of the Latin ‘alea iacta est’ which does, in plain old English, mean “the die has been thrown”.

I have these stupid epiphanies ALL THE TIME. I only last year realized that “The Bible” means “The Book”. The stupid part? I had been studying ancient Greek, including the word ‘biblion’ which means ‘book’, for several months already.

Three other recent ones:

Carnival = carne-vale, Latin for ‘goodbye, meat’.

Phillip = Phil-hippos, or horse-lover, in Greek. This was just dumb. All I needed to do was add the -os.

Aborginal = I read about a tribe in ancient Italy called the “Aborigines”. ‘Could the English word referring to early/original inhabitants of any place be transference for that?’ I wondered excitedly. I looked it up. The word actually breaks down as ab-origines. Straightforward Latin for ‘from the beginning’. Duh.

The city planners, they were.

Growing up in a church, I always wondered what the hullaboo was about “youth in Asia”. What, are they not respecting their elders these days? :smiley: