The Stories Behind the Words
Discover the origins of some common English words and phrases
You’ve spent a lot of time studying how to use English properly. But have you ever wondered why English speakers say some of the things they say? For instance, why do they say an easy task is a “piece of cake?” Why do the two letters “OK” mean “all right?” How did the word “boss” evolve?
Many English words and phrases have a story behind them. Sometimes these stories give insight into Western history and society. Let’s take a look at the origins of a few common English words and phrases.
Piece of cake
A famous American poet named Ogden Nash lived back in the 1930s. Avid readers enjoyed everything the creative Nash wrote, and this poems were widely quoted. In one popular poem, Nash wrote, “her picture’s in the papers now, and life’s a piece of a cake.” Readers found this phrase appealing and quickly picked it up/ If one picture in a newspaper could make you famous, wouldn’t life be easy? For nearly 70 years, “a piece of cake” has meant any task or activity that is simple and enjoyable.
Is your boss nice to you? If not, just be glad you are’t living in medieval times. Back then, bosses had total power over their employees and could even beat them! That explains why the word “boss” comes from an old German word meaning “to beat.”
Many students today equate “school” with work. The word “school” is very old, and it comes from the ancient Greek language. Translated, it actually means “leisure!” In ancient Greek society, only privileged people were able to attend school. Doesn’t that make you feel lucky?
Taxis were once exclusively known as “cabs.” In the early 20th century, someone invented a machine — the taximeter — to measure the cost of a ride. Later the word was shortened to “taxi,” and in time all cabs were called that.
“OK” was once a man — a 19th-century American politician nicknamed “Old Kinderhook.” In one election year, his supporters went around shouting “OK!OK!” The supporters thought their candidate was “all right.” The expression caught on. and now if something is “all right,” we simply say ”OK!”
avid 貪婪的;熱切的 : Harry is an avid basketball player. He plays basketball every chance he gets.
equate 視...為同等;噢...相提並論 : You can’t equate bad test scores with laziness. Sometimes there are other reasons why students don’t do well on tests.
privileged 擁有特權的 : Andrew comes from a privileged home. His wealthy parents give him everything he needs.
exclusively 唯一地;專屬地 : This offer is given exclusively to our regular customers, and no one else.
catch on 受到歡迎;流行起來 : This new fashion trend really caught on among teenagers.