It sounds as though it refers to a female horse, but in fact the “) comes from Germanic folklore, in which a “mare” is an evil female spirit or goblin that sits upon a sleeper’s chest, suffocating them and/or giving them bad dreams. Interestingly, in Germanic folklore, it was believed that this “mare” did more than just terrorise human sleepers. It was thought that it rode horses in the night, leaving them sweaty and exhausted next day, and it even wreaked havoc with trees, twisting their branches.
The nation’s favourite lunchtime snack gets its name from the 4th Earl of Sandwich, John Montagu. The story goes that 250 years ago, the 18th-century aristocrat requested that his valet bring him beef served between two slices of bread. He was fond of eating this meal whilst playing card games, as it meant that his hands wouldn’t get greasy from the meat and thus spoil the cards. Observing him, Montagu’s friends began asking for “the same as Sandwich”, and so the sandwich was born. Though people did eat bread with foods such as cheese and meat before this, these meals were known as “bread and cheese” or “bread and meat”. The sandwich is now the ultimate convenience food.
You wouldn’t have thought that a word we primarily associate with Africa would have originated in the slightly more forgiving climate of Rome. It comes from the medieval Italian words “mal” meaning “bad” and “aria” meaning “air” – so it literally means “bad air” installment loans New Jersey. The term was used to describe the unpleasant air emanating from the marshland surrounding Rome, which was believed to cause the disease we now call malaria (and we now know that it’s the mosquitoes breeding in these conditions that cause the disease, rather than the air itself).
The word “quarantine” has its origins in the devastating plague, the so-called Black Death, which swept across Europe in the 14th century, wiping out around 30% of Europe’s population. It comes from the Venetian dialect form of the Italian words “quaranta giorni”, or “forty days”, in reference to the fact that, in an effort to halt the spread of the plague, ships were put into isolation on nearby islands for a forty-day period before those on board were allowed ashore. Originally – attested by a document from 1377 – this period was thirty days and was known as a “trentine”, but this was extended to forty days to allow more time for symptoms to develop. This practice was first implemented by the Venetians controlling the movement of ships into the city of Dubrovnik, which is now part of Croatia but was then under Venetian sovereignty. We now use the word “quarantine” to refer to the practice of restricting the movements, for a period of time, of people or animals who seem healthy, but who might have been exposed to a harmful disease that could spread to others.
Who knew that the word “clue” derives from Greek mythology? It comes from the word “clew”, meaning a ball of yarn. In Greek mythology, Ariadne gives Theseus a ball of yarn to help him find his way out of the Minotaur’s labyrinth. Because of this, the word “clew” came to mean something that points the way. Appropriately enough, Theseus unravelled the yarn behind him as he went into the maze, so that he could work his way back out in reverse. Thus the word “clew” can be understood in this context and in the context of a detective working his way backwards to solve a crime using “clues”. The word gained its modern-day spelling in the 15th century, a time when spelling was rather more fluid than it is today.