- This incomplete list is not intended to be exhaustive.
This is a list of common contemporary false etymologies for English words.
The use of acronyms to create new words was nearly non-existent in English until the middle of the 20th century. Nearly all older words were formed in other ways.
- "Chav": see under "Other"
- Coma: Some falsely believe that the word coma originates from "cessation of motor activity". Although this describes the condition of coma, this is not the true derivation. The word is actually derived from the Greek kōma, meaning deep sleep.
- Fuck: see under "Profanity"
- Golf: did not originate as an acronym of "gentlemen only, ladies forbidden". The word's true origin is unknown, but it existed in the Middle Scots period.
- News: The word news has been claimed to be an acronym of the four cardinal directions (north, east, west, and south). However, old spellings of the word varied widely (e.g., newesse, newis, nevis, neus, newys, niewes, newis, nues, etc.). Additionally, an identical term exists in French, "les nouvelles", which translates as the plural of "the new". "News" also does not stand for "notable events, weather, and sports". The word "news" is simply a plural form of new.
- Pom or pommy is an Australian English, New Zealand English, and South African English term for a person of British descent or origin. The exact origins of the term remain obscure (see here for further information). A legend persists that the term arises from the acronym P.O.M.E., for "prisoner of Mother England" (or P.O.H.M, "prisoners of His/Her Majesty"), although there is no evidence to support this assertion.
- Posh was not an acronym for wealthy British passengers getting "port out, starboard home" cabins on ocean liners to India, in order to get ocean breeze. The actual origins of the word are unknown.
- Shit: see under "Profanity"
- Swag is not an acronym for "stuff we all get," "secretly we are gay," or anything else. It comes from early-19th-century slang for a thief's booty or loot.
- Tip is not derived from the phrase "to insure promptness" (prompt service). The word originated in the 17th century and is of uncertain origin.
- Wog and wop: see under "Ethnic slurs"
- 420 did not originate as the Los Angeles police or penal code for marijuana use. Police Code 420 is "juvenile disturbance", and Penal Code 420 defines the prevention, hindrance, or obstruction of legal "entry, settlement, or residence" on "any tract of public land" as a misdemeanor. Some LA police codes that do relate to illegal drugs include 10-50 ("under influence of drugs"), 966 ("drug deal"), 11300 ("narcotics"), and 23105 ("driver under narcotics"). The number's association with marijuana originated with a group of students who would meet on the campus of San Rafael High School at 4:20 pm to smoke.
- Adamant is often believed to have come from Latin adamare, meaning to love to excess. It is in fact derived from Greek ἀδάμας, meaning indomitable. There was a further confusion about whether the substance referred to is diamond or lodestone.
- Buck: The use of "buck" to mean "dollar" did not originate from a practice of referring to African slaves as "bucks" (male deer) when trading. "Buck" was originally short for "buckskin", as buckskins were used in trade.
- Butterfly: The word "butterfly" did not originate from "flutterby". It is, as it appears, a compound of "butter" and "fly", first formed in Old English: it comes from the Middle English word butterflye, which in turn comes from the Old English word butorflēoge.
- Chav: This disparaging UK term for a person of low social class or graces does not originate from "Chatham-" or "Cheltenham Average", nor is it an acronym for "Council Housed And Violent". It comes from a word meaning "boy" in the Romani language.
- Crowbar: A "crowbar" is not so named for its use by Black menial workers, but rather for its forked end, which resembles a crow's foot.
- Easter: The high Christian holiday does not take its name from Ishtar, the Mesopotamian fertility goddess. It instead is based on Ēostre, a West Germanic goddess representing the dawn, whose name derives from the sun rising in the east.
- Emoji: These pictographic characters are often mistakenly believed to be a simplified form of the word emoticon, itself a portmanteau of "emotion icon". However, emoji is a Japanese term composed from "e" (image) and "moji" (character).
- Faggot: The origin of the slur usage of the word "faggot" (originally referring to a bundle of firewood) may be from the term for women used in a similar way to "baggage", i.e. something heavy to be dealt with. The usage may also have been influenced by the British term "fag", meaning a younger schoolboy who acts as an older schoolboy's servant.
- Female and male: the terms have different etymologies. Male originates from Old French masle, a shortened form of Latin masculus. Female originates from Medieval Latin femella, a diminutive of femina.
- The Fluorescent lamp did not derive its name from the fictional Filipino inventor Agapito Flores.
- Handicap: The word "handicap" did not originate as a metathetic corruption of "cap in hand" in reference to disabled beggars. The word originally referred to the game hand-i'-cap, in which forfeits were placed in a cap to equalize the game.
- Hiccough, an alternate spelling still encountered for hiccup, originates in an assumption that the second syllable was originally cough. The word is in fact onomatopoeic in origin.
- History does not derive from "His story" (that is, a version of the past from which the acts of women and girls are systemically excluded) but from the Greek word ἱστορία, historia, meaning "inquiry."
- Innocent: often wrongly believed to have the original meaning of "not knowing", as if it came from Latin noscere (to know); in fact it comes from nocere (to harm), so the primary sense is "harmless".
- Isle and island: The word "isle" is not short for "island", nor is the word "island" an extension of "isle"; the words are unrelated. "Isle" comes ultimately from Latin īnsula, meaning "island"; "island" comes ultimately from Old English īegland, also meaning "island", or technically "island land" (cf. Icelandic ey "island"). The spelling island with an S, however, is indeed due to the influence of isle.
- Marmalade: there is an apocryphal story that Mary, Queen of Scots, ate it when she had a headache, and that the name is derived from her maids' whisper of "Marie est malade" (Mary is ill). In fact it is derived from Portuguese marmelada, meaning quince jam, and then expanded from quince jam to other fruit preserves. It is found in English-language sources written before Mary was even born.
- Nasty: The term nasty was not derived from the surname of Thomas Nast as a reference to his biting, vitriolic cartoons. The word may be related to the Dutch word nestig, or "dirty". It predates Nast by several centuries, appearing in the most famous sentence of Thomas Hobbes's Leviathan, that in the state of nature, the life of man is "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short". That work was published in 1651, whereas Nast was born in 1840.
- Picnic: The word "picnic" did not originate as an abbreviation of "pick a nigger", a phrase falsely claimed to have been used by white families at community lynchings in the 19th century. "Picnic" comes from 17th-century French piquenique, which is of uncertain origin.
- Pumpernickel is said to have been given the name by a French man (sometimes Napoleon) referring to his horse, Nicole—"Il étoit bon pour Nicole" ("It was good enough for Nicole"), or "C'est une pomme pour Nicole" ("It's an apple for Nicole") or "C'est du pain pour Nicole" ("It's bread for Nicole"). Some dictionaries claim a derivation from the German vernacular Pumpern (fart) and "Nick" (demon or devil), though others disagree.
- Sincere does not originate from Latin sine cera ("without wax"), but from sincerus ("true, genuine"), which combines roots meaning "single" and "grow".
- Snob does not originate from Latin sine nobilitate ("without nobility").
- Till is not an abbreviation of "until", though the increasingly common spelling 'til is a result of this misconception. In fact, "till" is the older word; "until" is a compound of "till" and the Old Norse prefix "und-" ("up to", "as far as"), just as "unto" is a compound of that prefix and "to".
- Welsh rarebit has been claimed to be the original spelling of the savoury dish "Welsh rabbit". Both forms now have currency, though the form with "rabbit" is in fact the original. Furthermore, the word "Welsh" in this context was used in a pejorative sense, meaning "foreign" or "substandard", and does not indicate that the dish originated in Wales.
- Woman does not originate from "woven from man", nor from "womb". It came from the Old English wifmann ("woman human"), a compound of wif ("woman" – cf. "wife") + man ("human being"). Adult human males were called wer (as in weregeld, and world, and possibly also be the first element in "werwolf", man-wolf). Mann, the word for "person", eventually came to be used for adult human males specifically. Both "wer" and "wyf" may be used to qualify "man", for example:
God gesceop ða æt fruman twegen men, wer and wif
(then at the beginning, God created two human beings, man and woman)