Which Word Has The Most Fascinating Backstory Behind It?

Illustration for article titled Which Word Has The Most Fascinating Backstory Behind It?

We use words to tell stories, but words often have their own stories behind them that can be just as interesting as anything we can come up with. Today, we want to know about the word with the best story behind it.

Maybe it’s a word that changed its meaning throughout the years, or a word that is exceptionally well-traveled between different languages or places, or maybe there’s some other reason it caught your eye. Whatever it is, tell its story now in the comments.

Image: Meranda19/Shutterstock.

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Dan Entwistle

I find gullible to the most interesting. In 1856 a waif by the name of Billy Staines would run around London town loudly declaring that the French were executing bulls with a guillotine. This claim was believed and early 19th Century animal rights groups sailed to France to stop this barbaric act. However, when they got there they discovered that not only were the claims not true, but that the French enjoyed the story so much, that during a raucous drinking session they created a portmanteau of ‘bull’ and ‘guillotine’: gullibulle. This was then Anglicised and appropriated into the English lexicon.

For his wilful lie-telling, Billy was thrown in prison for 30 years.

It’s also the only word not in the dictionary.