Page 9 - Language Facts

"Helicopter" and "pterodactyl" have the same Greek root word! Do you know which?


Police use helicopters, but the etymology of helicopter has nothing to do with cops. Rather, it relates to fliers from the Jurassic period. It's helico–pter, from the Greek ἕλικος (elikos) "spiral" + πτερόν (pteron) "wing."

The "-pter" in helicopter is the same as the "–pter" in pterodactyl. The prehistoric flying reptile is "wing-fingered." It gets it's name from πτερόν + "dactyl," the combining form of δάκτυλος (dactylos) "finger."

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South Africans call traffic lights "robots"—You'll never guess why!


Every language and every country has it's own slang. There are even huge differences between each US State. South Africa is no different—it has dozens of words used to describe people, places and things that other English-speaking nations do not have.

Some of these include poppie (a ditzy woman), snackwich (a grilled cheese sandwich), and tekkies/tackies (sneakers). Somewhat confusingly, they call traffic lights "robots." They of course call actual robots "robots" too.

The practice of calling traffic lights robots came about when they were first installed in South Africa. Then, they were called "robot policemen" and the name was shortened over time.

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What was the last letter added to the alphabet?


Ever wonder why I and j are side by side in the alphabet when they look so similar? Well, they actually started out as the same letter.

The letter j's swash was just an embellishment on I. The two would be used interchangeably. This explains the 'j' in the word hallelujah.

With the introduction of the Roman numeric system, j was also used to punctuate a series of one's, like xiij for the number 13.

It seemed that 'j' would forever be doomed to life as a fancy 'I' until 1524 when an Italian Renaissance grammarian Gian Giorgio Trissino distinguished the two sounds.

He introduced the soft 'j' sound, as in "jam." For this, Trissino was named father of the letter "j". Yet ironically, his name contains 5 I's and no j's.

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Some awesome lists!

The word bonfire has a much more morbid meaning than you think.


A bonfire or balefire is a large controlled outdoor fire made from bales of straw or wood. The word is believed to come from "bone fire".

In the time of the Celts, there were midsummer festivals where animal bones were burnt to ward off evil spirits.

Bonfires were also used for rituals. The idea was that the fire would purify. It was used to consecrate things, or people, that are to make them sacred, in some way.

In ancient times, cattle were important symbols of wealth and status. Such cattle were led through the smoke of a bonfire.

Couples who were to be wed on May Day would leap through the flames of the bonfire to seal their vows. Coals from a bonfire would be taken home to light the fires in family hearths. This practice was thought to bring good fortune.

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The origin of upper case and lower case letters is actually incredibly simple! What is it?


The Printing Press was the most revolutionary piece of equipment ever created. The printing press allowed the creation and duplication of many different documents, so that they could be spread around the world.

Reading and Writing were skills only obtained by the rich and religious leaders. The creation of the printing press made it easier for the general public to have access to reading materials, and slowly, overtime, they learned how to read.

Enough of that boring history. Let's learn why we refer to capital letters as 'uppercase' and regular leaders, as 'lower case'. The original printing press had two different cases on it.

Each case was identical, except for the fact that one of the cases had only capital letters (A, B, C...) While the other case had regular letters (a, b, c...)

People started referring to capital letters as Upper Case letters because they were literally on the upper case of the printing press!

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