The Wacky Origin Stories of 4 Weird English Words

How These Words Originated

Like any other language, English has its fair share of weird words! But most of us don’t know where those words come from. Words live and evolve over the years until we forget about their sources. Fortunately, the study of word origins or etymology helps unearth and preserve initial meanings and historical developments of words. For curious minds, here are the interesting origin stories of a few strange English words.


Berserk means going crazy, very excited, or out of control. As a substitute spelling of ‘berserkr,’ an Old Norse word, it’s strange that it has come to mean all these. Back in 1822, the original word ‘berserkr’ referred to a raging warrior of superhuman strength. According to researchers, ‘berserkr’ came from two Old Norse words ‘ber’ and ‘serkr,’ meaning ‘bear’ and ‘shirt,’ respectively. So the word literally translates to ‘a warrior clothed in bearskin.’ This means that no matter how angry you get and how much you’re ready to go berserk, ancient Scandinavians just won’t buy it!


As a fantastic onomatopoeia, ‘hullabaloo’ sounds exactly like the situation it’s describing- a crazy event or a commotion. Interestingly, the word passed through a variety of spellings throughout history, most commonly ‘hollo-ballo,’ with similar meanings of racket, uproar, or commotion. The Old English word ‘holla’ is the only common denominator among all the variations, which was more a shout than a word, used to attract attention. As per etymologists, humans love to rhyme and just added ‘ballo’ at the end of ‘hollo’ to refer to a noisy commotion.



‘Lollygag’ means move slowly, play idly, or dawdle. But during its first appearance in the mid-19th century, the word had a racy connotation! It was often spelled as ‘lallygag’ and originally meant snogging or flirting. If you’re wondering about its true origin, etymologists have a clue. They believe that ‘lolly’ is an onomatopoeia referring to the tongue. Just think about the word lollypop! The second syllable ‘gag’ may have indicated both retching or choking and a trick or deception. What a mind-boggling change!


It’s one of those rare words in the history of the English language that has pretty straightforward origins. Initially recorded during the 1670s, ‘whippersnapper’ derives from the phrase ‘whip-snapper,’ meaning a person who cracks whips and has nothing better to do than snap a whip. Interestingly, today, the term is used to describe a young person of a shady demeanor, someone over-confident and possibly presumptuous. Hopefully, they don’t walk around snapping a whip anymore!