Ben Crowder / Blog

More etymologies

Time for some more etymological fun.


Algorithm comes to us via Old French augorisme, from the medieval Latin algorism-us. (The Spanish word guarismo “digit, cipher” is also related.)

And medieval Latin got it from the name of the Persian mathematician Muḥammad ibn Mūsā al-Khwārizmī, who gave us Arabic numerals and algebra (which comes from al-jabr, from jabara, “to reunite, to restore,” and we got it via the Italian word algèbra).

I should also point out that the ibn in al-Khwārizmī’s name, which means “son,” is related to the Hebrew word ben, whence I get my name — Benjamin means “son of the right hand.”


Nowadays maudlin means something is shallow and sentimental, but originally it meant “given to tears.” Not too hard to see how it got there. The interesting thing, though, is that it came from Magdalene (via some Middle English variants, whence the spelling and pronunciation difference), and the OED says it was “in allusion to depictions of Mary Magdalene weeping.”


Wardrobe comes from the Old French warderobe, a northeastern variant of garderobe. And that meant a locked-up chamber that guards your robes, basically. Which makes sense.


Sur- “above” comes from the Latin super, which also means “above.”

Name is an old word that’s cognate in most of the Indo-European languages (seriously, it’s everywhere: namo in Gothic and Old Saxon, nama in Old Frisian, nōmen in Latin, ὄνομα in Greek, ainm in Old Irish, etc.).

Put them together, and you get surname, which means “additional name” — something added to your first name, whether it be a name (occupational, locational, patronymic, what have you) or a title or epithet, as was more common back in the day (Richard the Lionheart, Alexander the Great, etc.).