5 Words You Use Every Day With Shockingly Dark Backstories
When we read about words like "gaydar," "threequel," and "bromance" being added to the dictionary, we can't help feeling like these days our vocabularies are created entirely by douchebags (that's also in the dictionary, by the way). Well, it turns out that this type of bullshit has been going on for a lot longer than you think.
There are common words that you've probably used thousands of times in your life whose origins lay not in an inspired bard trying to expand the way we communicate, but in some dickholes messing with other people or just plain being nasty. For example ...
"Villain" Was a Derisive Term for the Poor
Think about the most despicable villains from history: Osama bin Laden. Adolf Hitler. Genghis Khan. Everyone who has ever worked on a farm. Wait, what?
"Villain" might be a loaded word today, but centuries ago, it meant nothing but "a household servant, one attached to the villa" ("villa" meaning "country house" in Spanish). It has the same root as the word "villager," and back then it was exactly as inoffensive. How it changed from that to "someone who cackles maniacally as he ties puppies to a railroad" was an act of villain-like dickishness in itself.
"My outfit is worth more than your entire estate. Therefore, I deem you evil."
Since "villains" came from the poorer parts of society, and since the word was mainly used by people on the opposite end, it soon came to refer to anyone who was "base or lowborn." In other words, criminals. Fair or not, it's much easier to blame crime on the servants or other commoners than on people who bathe regularly. Still, the fact that the word gained a negative connotation says more about the upper class people using it than the "villains" themselves.
At some point "villain" came to mean "mean country fellow," which apparently means that people in the 14th century had no word for a country fellow who wasn't mean, since they couldn't conceive of such a thing being possible. The word "villain" just simmered for hundreds of years in a stew of elitism and prejudice, and as a result, today we're using it to define the likes of the Joker, Voldemort, and Darth Vader.
And Chad Laptoprage.
But it all started with some innocent farmhands. So if your gardeners ever tie you to the tracks and cackle maniacally, you can have a good laugh at the irony. Considering that we've been using their office as an insult for centuries, who can blame them?
"Fornication" Comes from Dick-Shaped Bread Made by Prostitutes
We imagine that only a small subsection of our readership would associate fornication with baking, but it turns out that that's exactly where the word comes from: bread. More specifically, bread shaped like dicks.
Like this one, called Mole-Infested Diseased Cockbread.
And who else could make that association but the Romans? In Roman times, Fornax was the goddess of baking and ovens, because those guys had to have a deity for freaking everything or they were completely lost. Experts think that Fornax was probably made up to justify some festival that the Romans were fond of at the time.
Fornax's name came directly from "fornacis," the Latin word for furnace, which in turn came from "fornix," the word for arch (because a stone oven is sort of like a little arch, you see). "But Cracked, what does all of this have to do with fucking?" you're definitely wondering, genitalia in hand. Well, the theory goes that back then, prostitutes would often operate out of bakeries and approach their clients in a not-so-subtle way by baking them ceremonial breads in the shape of genitalia. These dong muffins were known as coliphia.
The French did the same thing, and their severe penis deformities created the baguette.
The client and the prostitute would then eat the dick-bread and wait for the oven to cool down, probably making awkward conversation because that takes a long time, and when it was cool enough that they wouldn't risk scorching anything important, they would crawl inside to "heat the ovens back up again." Which is to say, they'd bang in an oven.
Another theory claims that "fornication" comes simply from the fact that Roman prostitutes hung around under arches (fornix), but we like this one better. In fact, one of the first novels ever, The Satyricon, talks about bakers tricking clients into coming for the bread and staying "thither for the base gratification of wantonness." The only question we have left is: What happened to that high level of customer service? We're looking at you, Panera Bread.
"I'll take two loaves of French and 15 minutes of anal."
"Addict" Comes from Roman Creditors Enslaving Debtors
We tend to throw the word "addict" around a lot these days -- it can mean being hooked on anything from cocaine to video games. And if you say to a person, "I'm addicted to you," it probably means you're trying to be romantic, and also a 14-year-old Justin Bieber fan. Back in the old-timey days, however, the exact same phrase had a very different, even more sinister meaning -- the one thing the two definitions have in common is that in both cases someone might end up putting you in bondage. Just not voluntarily.
You see, the word "addiction" (again) goes back to the Romans, and believe it or not, it had nothing to do with their love of alcohol or togas. The Latin "ad dicere" meant "to adjudge, assign." Usually this was used in a legal sense and could refer to money, goods, titles ... or people. Yep, "getting addicted" meant you were now someone's slave. The most chilling part is realizing how easy it was to end up as someone's personal addictus back then.
"Come with me, addict. We've got laws about being stoned."
Say you forgot to pay your pee tax. According to Roman law, you only had 30 days before you were "addicted" to private bondage administered by your creditor. This meant the guy you owed money to had the right to keep you bound in shackles or whatever for another 60 days. He could also display you in public if he wanted to, like if he thought someone could come to pay your debt or he just wanted to let passersby make fun of your dong (you sold your toga to pay off your debts long ago).
If the 60 days went by and no one had paid your debt, your creditor could then sell you as a slave to another country. Kinda puts getting a bad credit rating in perspective, doesn't it? The word "addict" wasn't used exclusively in this way, though. In fact, since being appointed as a judge in those days was kind of like jury duty, in Rome even the judges were addicted ("addicere judicem").
"If it pleases the court? Oh, it most definitely pleases the court."
But back to slaves: This lovely practice died with Rome, but the word itself was revived in the 1500s to mean someone who is "bound or devoted" to something, and in the early 20th century, that something was narrowed down to nose powders and such.
"Cheaters" Were King's Officers Who Stole Your Things
Say you're playing Monopoly, for some reason, and you decide to just grab your friend's properties and put them on your side. Some people would say you're cheating (the rest would agree that society's rules don't apply to Monopoly). Well, it turns out that the word "cheat" comes from a real-world version of what we just described ... only instead of plastic properties, it was real ones, and the one doing the stealing was the king.
Their version of flipping over the board was called "raiding your land and beheading your family."
Not surprisingly, this starts with the French. The old French "escheat" was something that you got by luck, something good that fell into your lap through no doing of your own. Unexpected spoils of war would be "cheats." If your great-uncle died and left you his favorite sex goat, that would be a cheat. At first, the word didn't have a negative connotation: It was more about getting a lucky break.
That didn't last long. Kings in the Middle Ages wanted to get in on that action, too, only their "lucky breaks" were somewhat more juicy than everyone else's. For example, if you unexpectedly died and had no one to leave your land to, it would fall back to the king as a cheat. The same thing would happen if your rightful heir had committed a crime, or if "the land's owner is a bastard."
"You mean all of this will be mine someday?"
"Well, 'mine' is a matter of perception."
The king even appointed special officers to go around looking for stuff that should be his. They were dubbed "escheatours," or "cheaters" in English. The problem was that these officers didn't always wait for you to die or do something wrong before they took your stuff. They would go around taking shit for the king or themselves and therefore had a reputation for being corrupt and greedy. Some con men would even pretend to be cheaters, forging the king's seal to scam people. These shenanigans gave a bad name to the word "cheating" and to cheaters everywhere.
"Bigot" Was Originally Used to Make Fun of One Race
There are two main theories about the origin of the word "bigot," but both are based on historical dick moves, and both are ridiculous.
One theory claims that "bigot" comes from the Spanish for mustache, "bigote" -- apparently, while fighting at the siege of Granada, the Spaniards were so impressed by the Swiss soldiers' mustaches that they began calling all Swiss folk "bigote."
"Say ... cheese."
Somehow this must have evolved into a word for all foreigners and then to someone who hates them. Damn their intolerant views and their thick, luxuriant mustaches!
The other theory says that "bigot" came from the phrase "by God," and from that it became the slang term for intolerant religious types. Specifically, it was used as an offensive term for the Normans in the 12th century. These guys lived in part of Northern France (we know it now as Normandy) and were known for being highly religious. The traditional story is that the Normans were so excited to be converted to Christianity that they ran around screaming "By God! By God! By God! Baptize us already!" To us that sounds less like excitement and more like being chased about by murderous crusaders, but who are we to quibble?
"Wait, is that urine? You sick fucks!"
In any case, this theory claims that "by God" became so associated with the Normans' culture that it was soon used as a derogatory nickname for them. Some sources pin this on one specific Norman: Rollo, Duke of Normandy. Rollo became a duke by marrying Gisla, the daughter of King Charles the Simple of France. Charles, a man of simple pleasures, demanded that Rollo kiss his feet to seal the deal. A disgusted Rollo responded: "Not so by God."
Apparently the king and his court were amused by Rollo's reaction. We'll just quote the next part straight from a book so you can see that we're not making this shit up: "Upon which, the king and his courtiers deriding him, and corruptly repeating his answer, called him bigit; from whence the Normans were called, bigodi, or bigots."
And then they had him frozen in carbonite.
Anyway, the nickname was especially used to describe the Normans as religious hypocrites (since they liked to announce their righteousness so loudly), and then it became a catchall word for religious jerks before being narrowed down to just intolerant people in general. We still kind of prefer the mustache thing.
For more ways to check your vernacular, check out 8 Racist Words You Use Every Day and 9 Words You've Used Today With Bizarre Criminal Origins.