The free citizens of Ancient Rome wore a “toga,” which is a large piece of wool draped over the body. There were different togas for different occasions, and one of them is the origin of the word “candidate.”
July and August are the only two months named after actual people, and they’re both named after Caesars.
“July” comes from the name Julius, as in Julius Caesar. It used to be simply called “fifth month” in the Roman calendar, but because Caesar was born that month, the Senate renamed it Iulius in his honor after making him dictator for life. He was assassinated a month later, in March 44 BC.
The funny thing about history is that sometimes it takes shortcuts. By taking these shortcuts it can reduce an entire people to one feature, which comes to define that people for ages to come. A case in point is the word “vandal.” Today a vandal is someone who destroys or damages public or private property, and that kind of behavior is known as “vandalism.”
The Atlantic Ocean, the Atlas Mountains, books of maps, architecture and statues, vertebrae and legendary islands are all connected by Atlas, the titan who appears in a wider variety of fields than perhaps any other character from ancient Greek myth.
The word “clue,” as in “a piece of evidence used as a guide in solving a mystery or a problem,” originally means “a ball of thread,” and it was spelled “clew.” What’s thread got to do with clues? The answer is in the story of Ariadne, Theseus and the Minotaur.
In Greek mythology the Minotaur is a violent monster, half human and half bull, born on the island of Crete. To keep it from hurting people, the king of the island makes Daedalus, an inventor and architect, create a labyrinth that the Minotaur will never be able to escape.
In many Western languages the days of the week are still named after ancient gods we seldom think about anymore, even though some of them have been the source of major Hollywood blockbusters recently. Think about Wednesday, Thursday and Friday in English. Three days in a row, referring to one powerful family of gods:
The words “music” and “museum” are connected by their common origin: the nine muses. In the ancient world the muses were the goddesses thought to be the source of artistic knowledge and inspiration, as well as history and astronomy. Nine sisters, each representing and inspiring an art or science, including different forms of poetry, drama, singing, and dance:
Man Ray, the American photographer and visual artist who spent most of his life in Paris, was a great admirer of Ingres, a 19th-century French painter famous for history paintings, portraits, and female backs:
The phrase “All roads lead to Rome” is now used to mean that there are many different ways of reaching the same goal or result, but in the heyday of the Roman Empire, all roads in the West actually did lead to Rome, one way or another.
The “X” in the short form of Christmas is not the letter x. It is the first letter of “Christ” in Greek, the letter “chi,” which looks like an x but is pronounced /kai/( rhymes with “sky”).
The second letter in the Greek word for “Christ” looks like a capital p but is pronounced “roh.” The first two letters together form the “Chi-roh,” which looks like a capital x with a capital p on top:
While language and art have been united by calligraphy for centuries in the East, they were kept apart in the West until only about a hundred years ago. When words and art finally connected in the West, they did not become one. They questioned each other.
You know the feeling you get when you’re walking in the woods at night and there’s a sudden cracking noise somewhere? The Ancient Greeks experienced it too. For them this kind of noise was made by the god of woods and wild places – the great god Pan.
As some have guessed, another significant part of Steinlen’s Le Chat Noir poster is the red halo around the cat’s head, especially the two words written in the halo: “Montjoye Montmartre.”
In 490BC, Greece is under attack. The Persian Emperor Darius has sent hundreds of warships in order to punish the Greek cities that rebel against his rule and to conquer the few that remain free, especially Athens, which has just become a democracy. After taking control of the sea, the Persian soldiers land for battle on the Greek coast, on the beach of a small town that still exists today. The town’s name? Marathon.
To move up and down or across a webpage, you need to “scroll.” It may sound like a computer word, but there was scrolling long before there were computers. In fact, it is an activity that is thousands of years old. A scroll, from which “scrolling” comes, is the oldest way of recording information on soft material, such as papyrus or paper, and it was used by most ancient civilizations in the world before the Romans invented the book, or codex, as they called it.
Have you ever wondered why a person who works for different companies without being employed by one in particular is called “freelance,” as in “a freelance journalist”? Or why this activity is called “freelancing”?
The answer is in the history of the word itself. A “freelance” was a knight without a lord in the Middle Ages. The word comes from the 19th century and refers to a particular kind of Medieval soldier. Most knights served one lord, whose castle and people they swore to defend with their main weapons, their sword and lance. These weapons were bound to serve the knight’s lord. However, some knights lost their lords to war, or to the plague, and therefore became independent. They could be employed by any lord who needed extra help. In other words, their lance was free for hire.
What does it mean to rest on your laurels? The word “laureate,” as in “Nobel Prize laureates,” comes from the ancient tradition of honoring exceptional achievement with a wreath of laurel leaves worn as a crown, which can be traced to the Pythic Games held from 582 BC to 394 AD in the ancient city of Delphi.
Just like “Impressionism,” the word “Cubism” comes from one painting and its insulting description by a conservative art critic who could not understand its value. Here is the painting in question: