Words of the World

by Katie Bowell, Curator of Cultural Interpretation

A staff member at the museum has a story I love. She says that when she and her husband first moved to Fort Collins, she misheard the name of our river, Cache la Poudre (“hide the powder”), as Cache la Poulet (“hide the chicken”). Upon misunderstanding, she made it very clear that she did not want to live anywhere near a river that referenced hiding French chickens.

I’ve also heard the river called: Cache la Poodle, Catch the Pooter and, my personal favorite, Catch the Pooh Bear. The etymology of the river’s actual name is almost a let down after hearing the alternatives (why would you hide a chicken? And where?), but the story, about a supply of gunpowder buried near the river by early European travelers to northern Colorado, is an important part of Fort Collins’ history.

It’s usually pretty easy to research the origins of names (e.g. the name “Colorado” comes from the Spanish word for “red colored,” a reference to the red earth in the region), but what about the origins of words themselves? Where did the word “cannibal'” from? Or “zeitgeist?” “Cuisine?” “Radio?”

Luckily for us, people at the University of Nottingham know, and they’ve made some videos to tell us all about it. Words of the World is a new website that dissects language, looking at nationality, history, use, and transformation from a word’s beginnings to how we use it today. The stories are fascinating, and show us just how much language is always growing and changing.

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