Cobalt is a dangerous element. Not in itself, but because of its sneaky habit of combining with arsenic and releasing a deadly gas when heated. 17th century miners were well aware of the hazards of cobalt. They would routinely heat rock in order to make the precious underground substances they were...

Partial to a Painkiller? Keen on a Cosmopolitan? Or maybe something more Dark 'n' Stormy floats your boat? Whatever your preference, there's bound to be something to wet your wordy whistle in the etymological origins behind five of the world's most popular cocktails. BELLINI This peachy brew originated in Venice sometimes...

What could be more wholesome and innocuous than an avocado? Beloved of Instagrammers and health food aficionados alike, this versatile fruit has seen its global popularity soar in recent years. But you might be surprised to find out that the origins behind the name of this knobbly green beauty are...

Colour has played an important part in humankind’s history. Our ancestors painted the walls of their caves with coloured pigments made from ground up soil, plants and animals. Thousands of years later, paints and dyes were big business as inventors competed to produce valuable new commercial dyes. The sources of...

The word laconic means concise or abrupt. It’s used to describe the manner or speech of someone who says a lot while using only a few words. It’s also often used to specify a sense of humour that’s particularly dry and understated. The word has been around since the 1580s and...

When ordering your morning brew from your favourite barista, you're probably more concerned with getting a caffeine fix than with the etymology of your chosen cuppa. But there are some interesting stories behind our most popular coffees that are worth exploring. Incidentally, there's some uncertainty about the origin of the word...

Merchants in the Holy Land in the 13th Century would have been familiar with al-zahr. They were the dice used in a number of high-risk gambling games that were popular in the region’s medinas. The risk came from the large element of chance inherent in the games and also from...

Anyone who has felt the choking effects of anxiety will find a certain poetic justice in the origin of the two words most frequently used to describe the emotion. The Old English word wyrgan, which means “to strangle”, is the origin of the word worry. The original wyrgan had morphed into...

Take a look at your burly biceps. If you don’t have any burly biceps of your own, look at a friend’s. Do those rippling muscles look like a handful of little mice moving around under the skin? The Romans thought so. In Latin, the word muscle literally means “little mouse”....

Salt was a precious commodity in Ancient Rome. So much so that it was used as currency to pay for goods and services. This is where the word salary comes from, sal being the Latin word for salt. Roman soldiers were the first people to receive something called a salary, which...