Words with Strange Origins

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  1. Supercilious
    Cilia are small, thick hairs. One area on our bodies that contain cilia is our eyebrows. Supercilious is derived from the rising of these brows. Of course a word that means raising one’s eyebrows would probably have limited use. It’s what the raising of eyebrows connotes. Apparently, to be supercilious is to be haughty and disdainful. That is, when we look down at someone in a demeaning way, we might be tempted to lift our brows.
  2. Protean
    Protean is an eponym derived from the Greek god Proteus, he who could change into shape orforms at will. To be protean, however, does not mean you wow party guests by shifting into variouskinds of lawn furniture. The consummate adaptability implied by the word is used to describe a person’s ability. So an actor, musician, or writer who is very versatile is protean.
  3. Sartorial
    The Sartorius muscle is found on your legs and crosses from the back, near the hamstring, all the wayto the base of the quadriceps, at the front of the leg. The name Sartorius was derived from the Latinfor tailor. You may ask what a leg muscle has to do with a person who stitches clothes? Well, whenevera tailor was at work, he/she would cross his or her legs. In order to do so, a tailor must employ aspecial leg muscle, the Sartorius. Today, sartorial does not relate directly to the muscle or tailor, but rather to the way we dress (makes sense considering tailors work with clothes).
  4. Saturnine
    The etymology of this curious word can be traced to two sources: alchemy and astrology. For alchemists,Saturn was related to the chemical lead. When a person has severe lead poisoning, he or she takes on avery gloomy and morose disposition. Astrologists, on the other hand, believed that the planet Saturnwas gloomy and morose. Usually, we would be loath to attribute human characteristics to large floatingrocks, but remember, these were astrologists. Either way you look at it, to be saturnine is to be morose.
  5. Mercurial
    From the element mercury, which has no fixed form and constantly changes, we have the word mercurial. Mercurial refers to personality; anyone who easily changes his or her mood easily is known as mercurial. This is a very common GRE word, so make sure you learn it.
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Words with Strange Origins

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