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Words That Were Invented Because We Actually Just Got Them Wrong

The lesson, as always, is that we’re dumb. All of us. Even the smartest among us can never save us because we’re all so dumb. Why? Because when we hear the wrong words, we don’t bother to fix ourselves but instead adopt those wrong words into our language even though they’re clearly wrong. It’s great! Language is always changing... for the worse.


This language lesson from Akira Okrent is fun because it shows how words like alligator and pea and riches and apron and so many more were products of terrible hearing and poor language skills. In the case of the word alligator, the English word came from the Spanish word ‘el lagarto’, which means ‘the alligator’. Instead of just using ‘lagarto’, english speakers adopted the whole word including ‘the’ so when we say an alligator, we’re actually saying a the alligator. Pea was misconstrued as the singular for pease and riches came from the abstract word for wealth ‘richesse’.

We’re all just making things up as we go along.


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List for those who like to read:

-Pea (from the singular pease)

-Cherry (from the French cerise)

-Riches (from the singular richesse)

-Apron (from the word napron; confused by the phrasing “a napron”)

-Umpire (from the french “non per” meaning “without peer”)

-Nickname (sounded like iekname, i.e. an iekname)

-Newt (sounded like ewt, i.e. an ewt

-Alligator (from the spanish el lagarto meaning “the lizard”