9 commonly used English words with unique historical origins

6) Gun –


In our modern times, we have many powerful weapons names identified with women, with examples like Big Bertha, Mons Meg and Brown Bess. And, as it turns out, the derivation of the common weapon term ‘gun‘ also comes from a woman’s name Gunilda! Often known as Lady Gunilda (which probably comes from Middle English gonnilde), this particular contraption of war was a part of the arsenal of the Windsor Castle from at least 1330 AD. The weapon was basically a very powerful and big crossbow mechanism that was capable of hurling rocks, arrows and other missiles.

As for the term gonnilde, it came from Old Norse Gunnhildr – which was also a woman’s name, while alluding to the combination of both war and battle. This ultimately had its origin in *gwhen-, which in PIE language meant ‘to strike, kill’.

7) Kamikaze –


The Japanese term ‘kamikaze‘ came into popular usage after World War II, when the desperate Japanese forces adopted the audacious tactic of suicide attacks on American warships. This frenzied tactical scope was officially known as Tokubetsu Kōgekitai (which translates to ‘Special Attack Unit’), and by the end of the war, more than 3,860 pilots were killed with the hit rate of a mere 19 percent. However, beyond saddening figures and statistics, the term kamikaze literally translates to ‘divine wind’ (kami means god or divine, while kaze means wind). Quite fascinatingly, this was the folkloric name given to the chance typhoons that severely afflicted Kublai’s Khan’s huge Mongol fleets, when they tried to attack the Japanese mainland in both 1274 AD and 1281 AD.

From the perspective of history, the second (and larger) fleet of 1281 AD supposedly contained more than 4,000 vessels; and though this number was depleted during the said event (at Kyushu), the Japanese samurais were still badly outnumbered for the ensuing battle. In spite of this numerical disadvantage, it was ‘divine’ nature that came through for the Japanese forces when a massive typhoon damaged the Kyushu coastline for two days – that ultimately helped in destroying majority of the Mongol ships. So, in other words, the historical episode served as the symbolic veneer for the Japanese pilots who went on the suicide missions during the ‘kamikaze‘ attacks.

8) Laconic –


The Laconic phrase implies a concise statement that still manages to drive home its point; and as such the scope entails the use of very few words (by a person or speech). This term itself comes from the geographical region of Laconia, which comprised of the city state of Sparta. In fact, the Spartans were known for their terse replies and pithy remarks, alongside their austerely disciplined lifestyles. Many of such concise yet blunt retorts can be seen in the otherwise historically inaccurate movie ‘300‘, with the notable example being when Xerxes offered to spare 7,000 Greek soldiers who were defending the strategic mountain pass. However, the emperor’s condition was that Leonidas’ men had to willingly lay down their arms. In reply, Leonidas simply uttered ‘Molon labe‘ which translates to ‘come and get them’.

In another interesting example, Philip II of Macedon (father of Alexander the Great) sent a message to Sparta that read – “If I invade Laconia you will be destroyed, never to rise again.”. The Spartan leader (ephor) replied – “If”.

9) Renegade –


Renegade roughly translates to ‘apostate’ in English, while the term is derived from Spanish renegado, which originally applied to ‘Christians who had turned Muslims’. This was a pretty common occurrence during the times of Islamic Moorish kingdoms which held sway over much of Spain from late antiquity to 12th century AD. The Moors themselves were ruled by an Arab minority, while their thriving (and remarkably tolerant) society was an assortment of local Iberians (Spaniards), Berbers from North Africa, and a sizable minority of Jewish people. The Moors also continued with their traditional recruitment of slave soldiers, from both captured young Christian prisoners and Berber tribesmen. And, as we mentioned in of our previous articles, the so-called ‘slaves’ (ghulam or mamluks) of medieval Muslim societies had a far more honorable status and even higher standard of living than that of ordinary folk.

Continuing with this societal trend, the renegados (and their descendants) gradually formed the military elite of Granada, which was the last surviving Moorish kingdom in the Spanish mainland by 15th century. However, the burgeoning and religiously-motivated Christian kingdoms from North were not fond of such renegados – so much so that during the latter part of the Reconquista, the captured Muslim-converts were treated with barbarity that was seldom seen in the history of ‘civilized’ Spanish middle ages before this epoch. One brutal example during the early part of Inquisition epitomized this cruel side of war, when the prisoner renegados were used en-masse as acanaveados, or live targets for practicing the art of throwing cane spears from horses (as mentioned in The Twilight of Moorish Spain by David Nicolle).

Image Credits: Osprey Publishing / HappyMorningStar

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