Page 3 - Language Facts

The word 'Jay' used to mean stupid, and was eventually applied to country folk. When these Jays came to the city, they didn't understand traffic signals; thus, they were 'jaywalking.'

Jaywalking is defined by being the illegal or reckless pedestrian crossing of a roadway, but where did the term come from in the first place?

Folklore might suggest that it comes from the letter “J” being the path one might follow to “jaywalk”. More likely, though, it has another origin.

The first recorded usage of the word came from the United States, and that is thought to be where the term originated. It’s generally believed that “jaywalking” is a compound word, with the two words being “jay” and “walk”.

One meaning for “jay” is an inexperienced person. In towns in the American Midwest in the early 20th century, "jay" was a synonym for "rube," a derogatory term for a rural resident, assumed by many urbanites to be stupid, slightly unintelligent, or perhaps simply naïve. Such a person did not know to keep out of the way of other pedestrians and speeding automobiles.


“Mortgage” means “death contract.”

Though it might not initially seem so, it wasn’t coined that way for a comedic reason. It basically just means that the contract ends, or “dies,” when either the obligation is fulfilled (meaning the house is paid off) or the property is taken through foreclosure.

The word was taken from Law French, a language that was based first on Old Norman and Anglo Norman languages, and later influenced by Parisian French and English. Its name derived from its use in the law courts of England, hence “Law French.” The phrase is elaborated on in “Commentaries on the Laws in England,” an 18th century four volume analysis of common law. 

As it says in the treatise, "[I]f he doth not pay, then the Land which is put in pledge upon condition for the payment of the money, is taken from him for ever, and so dead to him upon condition, and if he doth pay the money, then the pledge is dead as to the Tenant" So always remember, one of the most integral parts of the American Dream is, in fact, a death contract. 


Our ability to comprehend certain colors depends on if our language has a word for that color!

Language is a human invention and a pretty powerful thing. It’s so powerful that it can literally affect the way we see the world.

For example, the rainbow is broken up into neat, individual colors. In reality, colors seamlessly transition from one to the next.

We put labels on different colors to help us describe the world, but it’s not an exact science. For example, there are many languages that don’t distinguish blue from green.

There are no colors between them on the rainbow, so it’s not a huge stretch. They are just considered different shades of the same color.

Things get a little more interesting when you take someone who knows green and blue as different and someone who knows them as the same and ask them about the colors.

People who distinguished between the two colors actually saw them as more different than someone who saw them as different shades of the same color. In other words, having a name for “blue” makes it stand out more from green.

The effect is slight, but it’s there.


Some awesome lists!

Ever wanted to learn how to say LOL or WTF in French?

The French have made their own equivalents of “LOL” and other Internet conversational acronyms. They include, but are not confined to:

  • MDR is the LOL equivalent in French, meaning “mort de rire”, or dying with laughter, roughly translated.
  • PTDR is a little stronger, akin to ROFL: “pété de rire”, or farting with laughter, roughly translated.
  • KCDR is the strongest, from “cassé de rire”, meaning broken with laughterKC = Kah-say = cassé.

The French also use the English acronyms “LOL” and “WTF” in their daily internet conversations. The English acronym system is that strong and that global.They do still have their own equivalents to “WTF”, too. They include but are not confined to:

  • TG is the vulgar way to tell somebody to stop talking (ta gueule – shut your mouth/gob/trap) (cf. STFU)
  • OSEF is the less vulgar way of saying the same thing – who cares, or “on s’en fout”.


The drug heroin got its name from the Greek word for hero.

"Heroin" is derived from the Greek “heros”, the same word that the words “hero” and “heroine” come from. The original Greek word referred to characters in Greek folklore who were demigods (half-god, half-human). It’s unknown why the Bayer company decided to name their drug this, though perhaps it comes from the drug's euphoric effect that can make its users feel superhuman.

When heroin was first produced by the Bayer Company in Germany in 1895 the drug was marketed as a safe, nonaddictive alternative to morphine. Free samples of heroin were offered to recovering morphine addicts. It turns out that heroin is actually even more potent than morphine. The sale of the drug was finally banned in the U.S. in 1923, and its possession and manufacture were banned in 1924.

PBS and both have interesting timelines cataloging the unusual history of heroin.


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