1. Which mammal’s name is actually a metathesis or reordering of the Norse word Hrossvalr meaning ‘horse whale?’ Interestingly, JRR Tolkien is believed to be the first person to have stumbled upon this origin.

2. Which much used word, with a slightly different spelling in its modern version, was originally the name for the ball of thread that Theseus used to search for the Minotaur in the Labyrinth? Theseus used it to retrace his steps and escape from the Labyrinth after killing the Minotaur

3. Guessable. Which word for a part of the human anatomy literally translates to ‘little mouse’ in Latin? When they were named, people believed that the movement of these looked like mice running under our skin.

4. Which eight letter word derives from the Greek, through the French language from ‘bad star.’ It implies that whatever happened was a result of the malign influence of stars?

5. Which word, named after a god usually accompanied by Subhadra and Balabhadra, now means a force that is literally unstoppable?

6. ‘Cleave’ and ‘Dust’ are two examples of Janus words, among the most interesting words one can come across. What are Janus words?

7. When Philip of Macedon threatened the Spartans saying “If I enter _____, I will raze Sparta to the ground,” the Spartans’ reply was, “If.” Fill in the blank, which is the name of the district around Sparta which has given a word to the English language meaning terse.

8. Which modern day military word originates from the chief of chiefs of the medieval Moorish army, though it has to do with another of the services?

9. Which modern vegetable’s name originates from Ahuacatl, which in the language of the Aztecs literally means ‘testicle?’

10. What is common to the words Chapstick, dumpster, fiberglass, frisbee, jacuzzi? The list is in no way exhaustive.


1 Walrus. The description is fairly apt

2 Clew, now spelt Clue

3 Muscles

4 Disaster, from ‘dis’ and ‘astro’

5 Juggernaut, from Jagannatha. It originates from the mammoth raths pulled by thousands of devotees which would stop for nothing

6 Words that have two opposite meanings. Cleave can mean to both stick together and break apart. To dust also means to take dust off. It originates from the Roman god Janus who had two heads

7 Laconic, from Laconia

8 Admiral, from the Moorish ‘Emir-al’ or ‘chief of all emirs’

9 Avocado, the Spanish called it Aguacate from the Aztec name

10 All words which were originally product names. Frisbee was a toy marketed by the Wham-O Corporation, Fiberglass was a brand name of Corning

Joy Bhattacharjya is a quizmaster; Twitter: @joybhattacharj