Unfortunate English: The Gloomy Truth behind the Words You Use

Unfortunate English: The Gloomy Truth behind the Words You Use By Bill Brohaugh; Read: February 2011

If you take this tome, you will have in your possession a book of revelation.

But, even with that in your hand, could you be able to handle it? I ask because this book is not for everyone.

Yes, I am saying this now. And I am saying that much. Let’s face it: etymology can—and will—bore you, unless you actually have a reason to be excited about it.

And this is how I betray my geekiness. I love etymology. It’s not just exciting. It’s revealing. It’s stunning. It’s life changing.

Now, like all etymology books, you cannot dig up the roots of words without disturbing the ground where it is found: history. Well, yes, you can discuss etymology without having to go into the nitty-gritty of the archives. But then you’d end up with only just a page or two. That wouldn’t be much of a book, would it?


Bill chose words that would appeal to the dark nature of the book. And these aren’t words that are archaic, jargon, or highfalutin. They are words that we use in casual, everyday conversations.

And that is why there’s the shock value of the actual origin of the words. They did not start out to have any of the good (or even better) meanings that they have now.

The author traces the change of definitions through the years. And he presents how his collections ended with their current denotations.

A Faded Pantheon

Words contain authority, like mini gods whose presence and power you invoke by merely uttering them. But like the gods of ages past, what and how people believe them change. So their potency changes, even their alignment changes as well.

And although they still have power in them, they’re not the same anymore.

Of course, just because you learned what a word’s original meaning is, you refer to that when you use it. But that could be a fun idea, wouldn’t it? But it is the knowledge of what they used to mean which is the actual power that is in the book.

Now what do you do with power is up to you.


8 Comments Add yours

  1. I’m another lover of etymology, and I write a blog that delves into it in English and Spanish.


    1. matiserrano says:

      @Steve: I knew I should have checked the replies earlier. I took a look at your blog and there are some pieces I’d love to read but I got to give the PC a rest. And myself as well.

      But I am looking forward to reading. The Filipino language is after all heavily influenced by the Spanish language.


  2. Take your time: my blog isn’t going away.

    By the way, if you know the origin of the word tarantado, I’d be glad to know it.


    1. matiserrano says:

      @Steve: Just took another look at your blog. Wow. You really write a lot.

      Anyway, most definitions of tarantado is like this: (adj) a person with misdirected acts. When I asked around, people were certain that it was of Spanish origin but as to which word, they didn’t know.

      One source said it means “blunder head.” There was one that said it comes from “atarantado,” the past participle of “atarantar”. Now, how the a in “atarantado” was dropped is another thing. I don’t know who can trace it.

      I don’t know if this is of any worth to you but to us here–while “tarantado” means “stupid, foolish”–we also have another word, “taranta.” It means “panic, confusion.” I believe it has a stronger connection to original meaning of “atarantar,” to daze.


  3. Thanks for the information. The connection to atarantar was the missing link I needed. The loss of the initial a- isn’t unusual. Linguists even have a name for the process of dropping one or more sounds from the beginning of a word: aphaeresis. That phenomenon is more likely to occur when the first syllable of a word has weak stress, as does the a- at the beginning of atarantado, where the stressed syllable comes much later. As for atarantar itself, it is apparently derived from tarantula: people who are atarantado act like they’ve been bitten by a tarantula.


  4. Please see the follow-up that I posted at


    My next post will continue the theme.


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