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We all know that the English is one of the most flexible and adaptable languages in the world. But what makes the language even more intriguing is that many of its commonly used words have a rather interesting background? Read on to get surprised…

1) Boycott

Did you know that the first person ever to be boycotted was an Englishman named Boycott. Charles Cunningham Boycott (1832-97), who was an English land agent at Woolwich, came into conflict with the Land League agitation. He had to seek police protection as his men, whose sympathies were with the agitators, refused to work for him. The kind of treatment he received at that time is today known by his name, Boycott.

2) Bootlegging

Smuggling of illicit liquor is popularly known as bootlegging. The origin of the word goes back to the days when liquor was concealed in large sea-boots by smugglers. And the practice was revived by smugglers in America when prohibition was in force there.

3) Fifth column

The Spanish Civil War gave English language the expression ‘fifth column.’ The Nationalist General, Mola, who laid seige to Madrid, is said to have coined this phrase when he declared: “I have four columns operating against Madrid and a fifth inside, composed of my sympathizers.”

4) Quisling

A Norwegian leader called Mr Quisling collaborated with the Nazis during the World War II, thus giving English language a new word. Quisling nowadays means a person who betrays his or her own country by aiding an invading enemy.

5) Cinchona

In the seventeenth century, the Countess of Chinchona, wife of the ruler of Peru, was diagnosed with malaria. She was cured when administered a medicine prepared from the bark of a South American tree. This led to an extensive planting of this tree, which today bears the name Cinchona.

6) Chauvinism

Nicholas Chauvin was excessively devoted to his Emperor Napolean. Hence, the term ‘chauvinism’ – which means unreasonable and exaggerated pride in one’s country with corresponding contempt towards other nations.

7) Daltonism

John Dalton (1760-1844), famous for his atomic theory of matter, is also remembered for giving the English language the word, Daltonism (which means colour-blindness). Dalton and his brother were both colour-blind and published papers on the causes of this ailment.

8) Sabotage

A word of French origin. During the French Revolution, cultivators are said to have destroyed their crops by treading upon them with heavy wooden shoes called ‘sabot’ so that the King’s men do not profit by seizing them.

9) Silhoutte

This word is derived from the name of Etienne de Silhoutte (1709-67). Silhoutte belonged to France and had a particular fancy for such pictures.

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