Vocabulary Rocks! E is for…

Continuing the quest to cover the alphabet! That may prove impossible due to the vast number of words in the English language, but I can try to find a few fascinating examples. For a list of all my archived posts covering the topic: VOCABULARY


Anthony Ashley-Cooper (1801–1885), 7th Earl of Shaftesbury

Earl is the counterpart of churl. It originally simply denoted a man of noble birth and appears in several Germanic languages. Its cognates include the Old Saxon erl and the Old Norse earl, which later developed into iarl or jarl.

Like many Old English words, its date of appearance cannot be determined with any precision. The earliest known English citation is probably from sometime before 616 in the Laws of Ethelbert:

Gif on eorles tune man mannan ofsleæhþ xii scillinga gebete.
(If, in an earl’s town, a man slays a man, [he shall] pay 12 shillings.)

Earl also had a poetic sense, denoting a warrior, a brave man, or even just a man generally. Beowulf lines 356-57 read:

Hwearf þa hrædlice, þær Hroðgar sæt,
eald ond unhar mid his eorla gedriht
(They quickly turn to where Hrothgar sat
old and hoary, with his company of earls)

Following the Norman Conquest, earl was formalized as a title, with a rank equivalent to that of a continental count.


This exclamation is from the Greek heureka, meaning “I have found it.”


Legend has it that Archimedes uttered eureka when he realized that objects placed in water displace an amount of water equal to their own volume. Hiero II, tyrant of Syracuse, had supplied a goldsmith with gold to make a crown, but Hiero was not certain that the smith had used all the gold, so he asked Archimedes to test the crown. How to measure the volume of such an irregularly shaped object stumped Archimedes until one day, when climbing into his bath, he noticed the water displacement and realized that he could measure the volume of the crown through displacement.

From John Dee’s 1570 Preface to H. Billingsley’s Euclid:

For this, may I (with ioy) say EYPHKA.

By the mid-18th century, the word was Anglicized into eureka and being used outside of direct references to Archimedes. From Henry Fielding’s 1742 The History of the Adventures of Joseph Andrews:

Adams…returned overjoyed…crying out “Eureka.”


Actually a fruit, but eaten as a vegetable, eggplant probably has more names in varieties of the English language than any other. The name of eggplant was given by Europeans in the middle of the eighteenth century because the variety they knew were the shape and size of goose egg, and were a whitish or yellowish color rather than the wine purple that is more familiar nowadays.


In Britain, it is usually called an aubergine, a name which was borrowed through French and Catalan from its Arabic name al-badinjan. That word had reached Arabic through Persian from the Sanskrit vatimgana, which indicates how long it has been cultivated in India. In India, it has in the past been called brinjal, a word which comes from the same Arabic source as British aubergine, but filtered through Portuguese. Some people in the southern states of the US still know it as Guinea squash, a name that commemorates its having been brought there from West Africa in the eighteenth century.


Echo and Narcissus, by Louis-Jean-François Lagrenée (1724-1805)

In Greek mythology Echo was a mountain nymph that lived on Mount Kithairon. Zeus was quite attracted to nymphs and often visited them. Hera, jealous of his various affairs, followed her husband to catch him in the act, but Echo would engage Hera in long-winded conversations, giving Zeus time to escape. Hera eventually realized the plot and cursed Echo to only be able to repeat the last words that another person said.

After being cursed, Echo came across Narcissus, instantly falling in love. Unable to talk to him, she followed him in the woods. Narcissus, having lost his companions with whom he had gone hunting, started shouting “Is anyone there?” Echo repeated his words, Narcissus shouting “Let’s come together” to which Echo rushed to him, repeating his words. Tragically, Narcissus rejected Echo, then came upon a lake whereupon he fell in love with his reflection and mesmerized was unable to move, leading to his death. Echo was left in despair, mourned for Narcissus, and eventually died leaving only her voice behind.

Sweet Echo, sweetest nymph, that liv’st unseen
Within thy airy shell,
By slow Meänder’s margent green …
Canst thou not tell me of a gentle pair
That likest thy Narcissus are?
~ “Sweet Echo” by John Milton (1608–1674)



Sharon Lathan

Sharon Lathan is the best-selling author of The Darcy Saga, a ten-volume sequel series to Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice.

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