Of Course The Origins Of The Term "Serial Killer" Are Gruesome

Unsurprisingly, the two men credited with coming up with the term "serial killer" worked, together and separately, on some of the FBI's most gruesome cases: John Douglas and Robert K. Ressler. Their careers were so extraordinary they influenced pop culture, and at least one Oscar-winning film. » 3/23/15 7:40pm 3/23/15 7:40pm

Jackie Chan Invented The Chinese Character That's Now A Viral Smash

A new Chinese character, "duang," has gone viral. Nobody's sure what it actually means, but Jackie Chan has everything to do with it. » 3/02/15 2:40pm 3/02/15 2:40pm

Learn Which Famous Authors Coined "Nerd" And "Quark" In This Fun Video

This week's episode of Mental Floss' List Show on YouTube, hosted by John Green, breaks down 43 words invented by authors (spoiler alert: they're not all by Shakespeare ... and a lot of them are from scifi books!) » 3/01/15 9:45am 3/01/15 9:45am

What Does "OK" Stand For, Anyway?

As a linguistic phrase, OK is something of a phenomenon, traveling from American English into hundreds of other languages. And there are tons of myths about how OK emerged to mean that things are hunky-dory. But which story is correct? The truth is a little bit goofy. » 2/12/15 9:00am 2/12/15 9:00am

Why Is The Dollar Sign A Letter S?

The letter S appears nowhere in the word "dollar", yet an S with a line through it ($) is unmistakably the dollar sign. But why an S? Why isn't the dollar sign something like a Đ (like the former South Vietnamese đồng, or the totally-not-a-joke-currency Dogecoin)? » 2/07/15 10:27am 2/07/15 10:27am

How Two 18th Century Women Fell in Love and Invented Modern Romance

Romance hasn't always been the stuff of bodice rippers and bad vampire movies. Back in the 18th century, the word "romantic" meant something akin to "foolish" or "fanciful." But then a bunch of hipster sentimentalists changed everything — and invented the idea of love as we know it today. » 1/05/15 2:40pm 1/05/15 2:40pm

How The Simpsons Changed the English Language

Over at the Oxford Dictionaries blog, there's an essay by author and Indiana University at Bloomington professor Michael Adams that investigates how The Simpsons has helped shape the English language over the past 25 years. » 12/18/14 9:40am 12/18/14 9:40am

Does Knowing that "OK" Was a Joke Ruin It?

OK has been traced to a 19th century Boston Morning Post article where a writer was satirizing the "new" craze of abbreviations. The more things change, the more they stay the same, I guess. » 11/06/14 11:15pm 11/06/14 11:15pm

Here's The Thing About English

As Blaze Miskulin puts it below, "English is a mutt. And a slut. It was born of the random fucking of multiple cultures, languages, and dialects, and it will hop in bed with any language that tickles its fancy. It'a also a thief. English will blatantly steal any word or phrase that it finds interesting. We like it?… » 7/19/14 11:02am 7/19/14 11:02am

31 Essential Science Fiction Terms And Where They Came From

There are so many words and phrases that we use in science fiction—and even science—without giving it much thought. But where did we get terms like "death ray," "terraforming," "hive mind," "telepathy," and "parallel universe"? » 6/23/14 10:00am 6/23/14 10:00am

In Defense of Talking Funny

Not everyone in the United States speaks the same English, as a recent American Dialect quiz made very clear. In an essay originally published on her blog, Harmless Drudgery, lexicographer and Merriam-Webster editor Kory Stamper explains why that's a good thing. » 3/12/14 9:15am 3/12/14 9:15am

40 Weird Words (and their Weirder Origins)

Why do we call dunces dunces? John Green gives us the etymological low down on this and 39 other unusual words in the latest episode of Mental Floss. » 2/15/14 11:30am 2/15/14 11:30am

The true origin of "squee!"

Among fans, "squee" has become a word that sums up all our feelings of reckless abandon when we wholeheartedly fall in love with a story or character. New Firefly movie? Squee! Shirtless Benedict Cumberbatch photos revealed? Squee! The next Game of Thrones book is out? SQUEE!!! But squee was first used as comic book… » 1/01/14 11:51am 1/01/14 11:51am

​The secret origins of nerd, dork, and other things you've been called

No longer are the terms "nerd" and "geek" used as insults. We have taken them back from those who would mock us, and now wear them with pride. But those who don't remember the past are doomed to repeat it, and thus it is helpful to know what these terms originally meant, and where they came from. If only so we know… » 12/12/13 1:00pm 12/12/13 1:00pm

That word "cyber" -- I do not think it means what you think it means

"Cyber Monday" is only the latest (and most awful) mutation of the word "cyber." Here's the profoundly strange history of a word that went from science fiction and porn, to war and shopping. » 12/02/13 8:45am 12/02/13 8:45am

A map showing the original meanings of place names in North America

Now this is impressive: It's called the Atlas of True Names, and it reveals the etymological origins and translations of familiar place names whose original meanings we've mostly forgotten. Looking at it, you'd think North America was some sort of fantasy novel. » 6/19/13 10:21am 6/19/13 10:21am

Why there's a "b" in the word "doubt"

English is widely recognized as one of the world's most difficult languages, due in no small part to its deep, highly irregular orthography. Niggling quirks in pronunciation, freaky verb conjugations, and seemingly non-sensical spelling conventions can all make English downright bewildering, even to native speakers.… » 12/18/12 8:00am 12/18/12 8:00am

How Genitals Got Their Names, or Why a Penis Is Called a Pizzle

Why is a penis called a penis? Most names of our genitals arise from other languages. And once you know the origins of the names for these body parts, you'll discover how sanitized modern language is when it comes to naming sex organs. » 12/10/12 4:00pm 12/10/12 4:00pm

A brief history of four letter words

"Scumbag," sounds like the kind of hokey insult that would get you laughed at if you used it. When it was used in a New York Times, it got protests from some older readers, because once upon a time it meant "a used condom." Think about every time you've seen Batman refer, in children's cartoon, to criminals as scum,… » 5/24/12 6:30pm 5/24/12 6:30pm

Color-coded text reveals the foreign origins of your words

Your language is not your own. The words you speak have been borrowed, modified, and molded by the forces of linguistic evolution. And the sentences they form are not so much "English" as they are a shapeshifting hodgepodge of different languages that have intersected with English over the years. » 4/30/12 2:03pm 4/30/12 2:03pm

Kinde associated…