The frog most readers probably imagine comes from an ancient word that — not surprisingly — meant to hop. This Proto-Indo-European root made its way into Russian, Sanskrit, Dutch, German, Old Norse, & Old English, & is now defined as an insect-eating anuran amphibian of the family Ranidae.
But the word frog does not stop at amphibians.
Like buttons, zippers, snaps, & Velcro, frogs can be used as garment closures (a decorative cord fastening). This meaning came about in the mid-late 1700s. It grew out of an earlier 1700s meaning, an attachment on a belt to hold the scabbard of a sword. No one is certain of the root of this meaning of frog.
Florists use frogs in the bottom of vases to support plant stems in flower arrangements. This meaning most likely came from the similarity of the rounded backs of early plant-stem-holders to the rounded backs of insect-eating anuran amphibians.
The bit of a violin bow the violin player grips is also called a frog (the jury is out regarding this meaning’s origin).
And the word frog has been used as a slur against French people, due to an English stereotype regarding people’s diets in France.
And then there are frog youth: Starting in the 1870s, a small child might have been referred to as a tad. Etymologists are moderately sure tad was a shortened form of tadpole, which was born of the word tadde, an alternate form of toad. Toad came to English in the 1300s from nobody-knows-where, & was added to the Middle German word poll, meaning head. It wasn’t until 1915 that tad began to mean a small bit. Polliwog, another term for frog youth, showed up in the 1400s from a word meaning wiggle added to poll-, that German word for head that also appears in the word tadpole.
Frogs do appear to hop rampant, eh?
My thanks go out to this week’s sources: Merriam Webster, Collins Dictionary, Wordnik, & Etymonline.
Many etymologies of animals' names are pretty straightforward. Fish, for instance, comes from a source that meant fish. The original word for fly meant to fly. Ho hum. Some names for critters, though, are a tad more interesting.
Plover made its way to English around 1300 from Vulgar Latin through French. Its original meaning was belonging to rain. Apparently the plover made its migratory way through the British Isles just as the rainy season began.
Frog comes from fruska, a Proto-Germanic word meaning hop, and has been with us since we started calling the language English.
Another word that came to English as Old English was born is weasel. It came from the Proto-Germanic word, wisulon, & means stinking animal. Interestingly, wisulon is also the grandmother word to another slightly larger animal with a distinctive smell, the bison.
In the mid-1400s, caterpillar came to English from the French word chatepelose, meaning shaggy cat. Apparently, many languages named the caterpillar after other animals: American English - wooly bear, Portuguese – lizard, Italian – both little cat & little dog.
Narwhal came to English in the 1650s through Danish & Norwegian from the Old Norse word nahvalr. The pale hide of this animal inspired the Old Norse to call it the corpse-whale (na-meaning corpse & hvalr meaning whale).
Muskrat made it into English in the 1610s from the Algonquian word muscascus, which meant it is red.
The very unlikely animal the platypus got its name, not from any number of unexplainable physical characteristics, but from its flat feet. Platy is Greek for flat & pus is Greek for foot. Platypus came to English in 1799.
Shark arrived in English in the 1560s. Its origin is a complete mystery.
Good readers, which etymology was most surprising, or most unlikely?
Big thanks to this week’s sources: Dictionary.com, Wordnik, Etymonline & the OED.
I write for teens, narrate audio books, bake bread, play music, and ponder the wonder of words in a foggy little town on California's central coast.
To receive weekly reminders of new Wordmonger posts, click on "Contact" & send me your email address.