7 Ridiculous Origins of Everyday Words

#3. "Shitfaced" Used to Mean "Young-Looking"

Dictionary.com succinctly defines "shitfaced" as "very drunk"; we think they might be missing a few superlatives. The idea, we guess, is that when you're drunk your face resembles poop? Or you somehow get poop on your face? We're not sure.

But even if you'd never heard the term before, you'd still assume, from the inclusion of the word "shit," that it can't mean anything good. Turns out that wasn't always the case.

We guess if she starts puking right after someone took a cr -- never mind. Not thinking about it anymore.

But It Came From ...

The word "shitfaced" as slang for "drunk" dates back to the 1960s, but that doesn't mean it didn't exist before that. In fact, it's present in a Scottish dictionary from 1826 -- which bizarrely defines it as "Having a very small face, as a child." In other words, back then anyone who had boyish looks was considered to be permanently shitfaced.

"Aren't you a little shitfaced to be shitfaced?"

There's an explanation for this: Scottish people have always had a predilection toward calling kids "little shits," and it looks like somewhere along the way they got confused about whether the "little" or the "shits" was the affectionate part. Keep in mind, however, that this particular use of "shit" was derived from "chit," which was just a "contemptuous designation for a child" and had no relation to excrement.

Sometime between the 19th century and 1948, "shitfaced" somehow came to mean "undesirable person." It's not difficult to see how it could have evolved from that to "annoying drunk" by the '60s, especially considering drunks' tendency to poop in unusual places. During that decade the word caught on especially among youngsters in colleges, meaning that most people getting shitfaced would have been considered shit-looking in old-timey Scotland as well.

Plus, it's Scottish law that all children begin drinking at age 4, so there's that.

#2. "White Elephant" Comes From an Actual Elephant

A "white elephant" is a possession that you want to get rid of but can't, usually in the context of Christmas and a sweater from your aunt. But why do we call that an elephant? Maybe it's just us, but if someone gave us any type of large animal for Christmas we would be super impressed.

It's one of those terms that makes so little sense that you'd have to assume it comes from a story or a fable, like maybe somebody got a huge white porcelain elephant as a gift that was useless but impossible to give away and, we don't know, maybe it turned out it granted wishes or something. The point is, it clearly refers to something that, though forgotten, was no doubt cute and charming.

"Merry Christmas! You'll want to boil that for, like, ever."

But It Came From ...

There are two competing theories about where the term comes from, and one of them is pretty freaking disturbing.

First, according to Oxford Dictionaries, the term comes from actual white elephants that the kings of Siam (now Thailand) would gift to annoying people in order to screw them over. Since white elephants were sacred in Siam, they couldn't be regifted or put to work. But, they were still pretty expensive to maintain, meaning that the owners usually ended up being elephanted to ruin.

Via Wikimedia Commons
And that is the greatest prank we've ever heard.

But then there's the other theory: that the term comes from a specific elephant that belonged to P.T. Barnum, the famous businessman and circus owner. In the late 1800s, Barnum sent an agent to India to buy one of those legendary white elephants for his circus, for $100,000. When the first elephant was poisoned and died on its way to America, Barnum shelled out $200,000 for another one. And then, finally, Barnum got his white elephant ... and realized it was more like "grayish with white spots."

Via Elephant.se
Also it was actually two guys in a suit.

Barnum's audience was as disappointed as he was. To make matters worse, his main competitor at that time simply took a regular elephant, painted it white and had a big hit.

Obviously Barnum wasn't willing to give away a $300,000 investment, and he probably couldn't sell it, either, so he decided to lock the elephant away in a barn in Bridgeport, the equivalent of hiding an ugly pair of socks in the back of your closet.

Sadly, the elephant died in a fire a few years later, but its legacy (supposedly) lives on in every unwanted present too valuable to throw in the garbage.

"And some say at night, when the moon is full, you can still hear him make that cartoon trumpet sound with his nose-holes."

#1. "Robot" Was Another Word for "Slave"

We are no stranger to robots, and specifically to the fact that robots will eventually kill us all. Of course, the idea that robots are forced labor and will some day take retribution on their slavemasters is ridiculous. They're just tools, like your power drill or massaging office chair.

In fact, the word "robot" probably originally just meant "tool" or "machine" or something. Right?

Or "laser spider"?

But It Came From ...

"Servitude of forced labor." A fancy term for slaves.

The word "robot" is relatively new: It was invented in 1921 by Czech playwright Karel Capek, who wrote a play called Rossum's Universal Robots featuring artificial people built for the purpose of being slaves. He named these beings "robots" after the Czech word "robota," which means "forced labor." That's right: Even back then, we were giving these things a reason to revolt. This would be a good moment to note that the Czech Republic is right next to Austria ... birthplace of the Terminator.

Finally, a satisfying explanation for the accent.

Even though the robots in the play aren't mechanical at all (they're just made-up people with no souls), that doesn't stop them from fulfilling every other basic robot trope -- like taking over the world and killing all the humans in it. Also, the play ends with a male and female robot learning how to fall in love and wandering off into the sunset to repopulate the now humanless world.

Via Findfreegraphics.com
They called it "Cybertron."

When the play was translated into other languages, the word "robot" caught on not just in English-speaking countries but pretty much everywhere in the world where they have stories about machines killing us all. It effectively displaced other, arguably less awesome terms for the same thing, like "android" and "automaton." On some level, we just had to keep reminding robots of their place. Eh, it probably won't come back to bite us.

J. F. Sargent blogs, tweets and is the managing editor of the political website PCulpa.com, which you can write for.

For more Cracked etymology, check out 8 Racist Words You Use Every Day and 6 Words That Need to Be Banned from the English Language.

And stop by LinkSTORM to learn how to kidnap Santa Claus.

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