25 Jun 2018

Well-named Words

I have long been fascinated by words whose labels have some important connection to their meanings. On learning of this connection, one often feels like one hadn’t really understood the word before. This is my collection of well-named words:


A term used by climbers to describe routes that are graded to seem easier than they actually are. It originates from the feeling of climbing an appropriately graded route with a sandbag attached (Source).


A term used by gamers to describe a state in which they play irrationally and often destructively. It arose from pinball where frustrated players tilt the machine and are penalized by the freezing of their flippers causing them to immediately lose (Source).


A term meaning to start a task without external aid. It comes a 19th-century phrase “pull oneself over a fence by one’s bootstraps” referring to an absurdly impossible action (Source). It seems in this case, that the usage has changed, losing the notion of impossibility of the action.

Conservative (Politically)

I always wondered how it was that conservatives come to share such a seemingly disparate set of beliefs. For instance, what is it about conservatism that causes its adherents to be so frequently against abortion and gun control though abortion and gun-control don’t really have anything in common? The answer is that conservatives seek to conserve the power of existing institutions (Source). In the case of abortion, they seek to conserve the power of the Church. In the case of gun control, it is the institution of property rights.

With Flying Colors

Often used to describe doing well at a task, it comes from the sailing tradition where ships that were successful in their endeavors would return to port flying flags from their mastheads (Source).

Basket Case

Often used as a generic insult, it actually means someone who is useless. It originated as a WWI slang describing soldiers who had lost all their limbs and needed to be carried around on a basket (Source). Makes you think twice about calling anyone a “basket case” eh?


Originally referred to fruit that the wind blew from the trees. (Source)