According to the Oxford English Dictionary, kangaroo is a noun meaning ‘a large plant-eating marsupial with a long powerful tail and strongly developed hindlimbs that enable it to travel by leaping, found only in Australia and New Guinea’.

This word was first used in English in 1770 by British explorer Captain James Cook (1728 – 1779).

The history of this word began in July 1770, when the HMS Endeavour (the Royal Navy research vessel commanded by Cook) was grounded off the north-eastern coast of Australia. During the weeks when it was being repaired, Captain Cook and his crew, that included astronomer Charles Green and botanist Joseph Banks, made contact with the native population.

In the book An Account of the Voyages ‘undertaken by the order of His present majesty for making discoveries in the Southern Hemisphere’, which is based on the diaries of Cook and his officers, we can read the description of what was called a kangaroo by the natives:

‘July, Saturday 14, 1770. […] The head, neck, and shoulders, are very small in proportion to the other parts of the body; the tail is nearly as long as the body, thick near the rump, and tapering towards the end: the fore-legs of this individual were only eight inches long, and the hind-legs two and twenty: its progress is by successive leaps or hops, of a great length, in an erect posture; the skin is covered with a short fur, of a dark mouse or grey colour, excepting the head and ears, which bear a slight resemblance to those or a hare. This animal is called by the natives Kanguroo. The next day, our Kanguroo was dressed for dinner, and proved most excellent meat.’

Those natives spoke Guugu Yimithirr, which means something like ‘this kind of language’ or ‘speaking this way’, from guugu ‘language’ and yimi-thirr ‘this way’. It is famous for being the source language of the word we are talking about in this article, and also for its method of describing the arrangements of objects in space based on geographic directions. There are only a few remaining speakers of Guugu Yimithirr  which can still  be heard in Hopevale in north-eastern Australia. Now the language has undergone simplification under the influence of English.

Almost 50 years after Cook had left the north-eastern coast of Australia, another explorer, Captain Phillip Parker King, was not able to find the same meaning for the word. From the 1850’s up until the present day a myth spread about the meaning of the word kangaroo. Comedians began to say that kangaroo was the phrase for ‘I don’t understand’. But this isn’t true.

So kangaroo is a noun which may have developed in the following way:

gangurru > kanguroo > kangaroo

It can also mean ‘an Australian share, especially in mining, land, or a tobacco company’.

Its plural is kangaroos.

It can also be a verb (regular) which means:

To kangaroo: (informal) (of a car) to move forward or to cause (a car) to move forward with short sudden jerks, as a result of improper use of the clutch.

The word is used in an Australian phrase :

‘To have kangaroos in the (or one’s) top paddock’, which means (informal):  to be mad or eccentric.

The phonetic transcription for kangaroo is: |ˌkaŋgəˈruː|

The Kongouro from New Holland by George Stubbs

The kongouro from New Holland (or The Kangaroo) by George Stubbs. This painting would have offered Britons a first look at the animal called a kangaroo. The artist had to paint it relying only on verbal accounts, probably made by the botanist Joseph Banks.



Yesterday I found an interesting word in the book I was reading, The Secret Keeper, by Kate Morton. Obviously, there are many words in the book, but this one caught my attention and I thought it would be a good idea to do some research.

I found the word in this sentence:

“Dolly battled an urge to fell the other woman with a sharp jab to the shins, but decided it wouldn’t be proper.”

Dolly was somehow… annoyed, as you can imagine from her thoughts, but I was happy to find an interesting word to write about.

When I was just a little girl and began to learn English nouns, I was fascinated by the names of the parts of the human body. I was curious enough to learn them one by one, first the “big ones”: head, arms, legs…, and then the “small ones”: eyes, neck, fingers, toes…

The word I would like to talk about today is “shin”.

We can find the origin of “shin” before 1000 in the Proto-Indo-European root *skei- (to cut, split), to Proto-Germanic *skino (meaning narrow or thin piece), to Old English scinu (meaning fore part of the lower leg), to Middle English shineRelated to German Schiene (thin plate) and Dutch scheen.

So the changes over time could be: *skei > *skino > scinu > shine > shin

[The forms with asterisk, as you may know, mean that they are reconstructed by linguists, i.e., we don’t have written proofs of them.]

The first known use of “shin” is dated before 12th century.

“Shin” is a noun meaning:17

  1. The front part of the leg between the knee and ankle.
  2. The front edge of the tibia.
  3. Mainly in British English: a cut of beef, the lower foreleg.

It is also the name of the 21st letter in the Hebrew alphabet (שׁ), transliterated as sh. (This from Hebrew shīn, meaning tooth).

As a verb it means:

  1. To climb quickly up or down by gripping with one’s arms and legs and hauling oneself up (this verb was originally in nautical use; early 19th cent.)
  2. To kick (someone) in the shins.

The phonetic transcription for “shin” is:  /ʃɪn/

(NOTES: Proto-Indo-European: hypothetical reconstructed ancestral language, about 5.500 years ago; Proto-Germanic, hypothetical prehistoric ancestor of all Germanic languages, including English; Old English: the English language as written and spoken c.450-c.1100; Middle English: the English language as written and spoken c.1100-c.1500.)

You can also listen to a nursery rhyme to sing and learn some other parts of the body…


Words are unpredictable, and that is what makes them fascinating. Sometimes they begin their life with a specific meaning, and then move into wider use. This is the case of  “avatar”.

“Avatar” comes from Sanskrit  avatarana “descent” (of a deity to the earth in incarnate form), from ava- “down” and  tarati- “(he) crosses over”, from Proto-Indo-European base *tere- “to cross over”.

It entered in English in 1784 meaning “descent of a Hindu deity”, that is, the incarnation of a divine being on earth in human form.

In a few decades, it was being used for the embodiment (as of a concept or philosophy) of a person or an idea, or as a variant phase or version of a continuing basic entity.

Then, in the late twentieth century, “avatar” took on a new life as a term in computer games: an electronic image that represents and is manipulated by a computer user.

“Avatar” is a noun meaning:

1. The incarnation of a Hindu deity.

2. An incarnation in human form.

3. An embodiment (as of a concept or philosophy) often in a person.

4. A variant phase or version of a continuing basic entity.

5. An electronic image that represents and is manipulated by a computer user (as in a computer game).


She seems to be an avatar of happiness in her family circle.

He chose a Roman warrior as his avatar in the game.

The phonetic transcription for the word “avatar” is: /ˈavətɑː/

(NOTES:  Sanskrit: classical Indian literary language from 4c. B.C.E.; Proto-Indo-European: hypothetical reconstructed ancestral language, about 5.500 years ago).


As one of my readers is fan of my articles about words, I think it is a good idea to talk about a new one: serendipity.

Serendipity derives from Serendip, an old name for Ceylon (modern Sri Lanka), from Arabic Sarandib, Sanskrit Simhaladvipa, “Dwelling-Place-of-Lions Island”.

This curious word was coined by the British author Horace Walpole (1717-1792) in Jan. 28, 1754 in a letter to Sir Horace Mann, British Baronet and diplomat who lived in Florence and met Walpole in 1739. They conducted a correspondence with each other over many years, and in one of those letters Walpole said that he formed the word from the Persian fairy tale The three princes of Serendip, whose heroes where always making discoveries, by accidents and sagacity, of things they were not in quest of.

The text of the letter from Walpole to Mann is the following:

“…This discovery, indeed, is almost of that kind which I call serendipity, a very expressive word, which, as I have nothing better to tell you, I shall endeavour to explain to you: you will understand it better by the derivation than by the definition. I once read a silly fairy tale, called The Three Princes of Serendip; as their Highnesses travelled, they were always making discoveries, by accidents and sagacity, of things which they were not in quest of: for instance, one of them discovered that a mule blind of the right eye had travelled the same road lately, because the grass was eaten only on the left side, where it was worse than on the right – now do you understand serendipity? One of the most remarkable instances of this accidental sagacity, (for you must observe that no discovery of a thing you are looking for comes under this description,) was of my Lord Shaftsbury, who, happening to dine at Lord Chancellor Clarendon’s, found out the marriage of the Duke of York and Mrs. Hyde, by the respect with which her mother treated her at table”.

Serendipity is a noun meaning:

1. The luck some people have in finding or creating interesting or valuable things by chance.

2. An unsought, unintended, or unexpected discovery, made by accident and sagacity.


“Some of the best effects in my garden have been the result of serendipity”.

The phonetic transcription for the word “serendipity” is: /ser-ən-ˈdi-pə-tē/

(NOTES: Sanskrit: the classical Indian literary language from 4c. B.C.E.).


When I worked as a teacher I was delighted to talk about words. I am very keen on words, their spelling, their origin and their historical development. I suppose it is the way linguists try to understand life (or a part of it).

Although all words are interesting, there are some of them that attract my attention, I don’t know why. This is the case of ‘weird’.

“Weird” derives from the Old English noun wyrd, meaning “fate, destiny”, literally “that which comes”. This one from Proto-Germanic *wurthis, from Old Saxon wurd, Old High German wurt, Old Norse urðr, from Proto-Indo-European *wert- (to turn, wind).

By the 8th century, the plural wyrde begun to appear in texts as a gloss for “Parcae”, the Latin name for the Fates (the three goddesses who controlled human destiny), in Germanic mithology  “the three fates of Norns”. In the 15th and 16th centuries Scots authors employed “werd” or “weird” in the phrase “weird sisters” to refer to the Fates. William Shakespeare adopted this usage in Macbeth, in which the “weird sisters” are depicted as three witches. Subsequent adjectival use of “weird” grew out of a reinterpretation of the “weird” used by Shakespeare, that led to the meaning “odd-looking, uncanny”. “Eery” is also a synonym today.

So “weird” is an adjective meaning:

1.  Having supernatural or preternatural power.

2. Having an unusual or strange character or behaviour.

(Comparative: weirder, and superlative: weirdest; regular forms).

As a noun it means:

1. (Archaic except in Scots) fate or destiny.

2. (Archaic in plural) the Fates.

As a verb it means:

1. To make someone feel strange.

Some examples of “weird” in complete sentences:

     His weird behaviour had cooled her passion.

     The altered landscape looks unnatural and weird.

The phonetic transcription for the word “weird” is: /wɪərd/

 I hope you like this word as much as I do.

(NOTES:  Old English: the English language as written and spoken c.45o – c.1100; Proto-Germanic: hypothetical prehistoric ancestor of all Germanic languages, including English); Old Saxon: the earliest written form of Low German, spoken c.700 – c.1100; Old High German: German language as written and spoken c.100 – c. 1500 C.E.; Old Norse:  the Norwegian language as written and spoken c.100 – c1500 C.E.; Proto-Indo-European: the hypothetical reconstructed ancestral language of the Indo-European family (about 5,590 years ago).