Originally a candidatus was any person dressed in white, but gradually men running for public office, anxious to emphasize their pure character, began appearing in the Forum and the Roman baths wearing immaculate white togas. Winter dress, of natural sheep’s wool, was brightened with chalk for the desired effect. In time candidatus became synonymous with “seeker of public office”.
Mail was and old Anglo-Norse term for rent or tribute. During the time of border warfare between England and Scotland, freebooters extorted payment from farmers of the area in exchange for protection and immunity from plunder. As the inhabitants were generally very poor, the tribute was paid in “black mail,” that is, grain, meat, or the lowest coinage (copper), as opposed to “white mail,” which was silver. In time the word took on the meaning of any payment extorted by threat of exposure of an incriminating secret.
The fabric used to make jeans referred originally to a twilled serge cloth manufactured in Nimes, a town in southern France. The name of the cloth first reflected its city of origin – serge de Nimes – but was eventually shortened to denim.
The Greeks, watching their athletes at the games, saw in the play of muscles in an arm a little mouse running up and down under the skin. The Romans inherited the concept, and therefore the word muscle goes back to the Latin musculum, a diminutive of mus (mouse).
It once meant awe-inspiring and full of awe. Sometime in the 19th century, it came to mean distasteful. An 1818 dictionary reported that in New England many people would call a disagreeable medicine awful and an ugly person an awful-looking person. At the same time both awful and its adverbial counterpart awfully began to be used as intensives to add emphasis. People used them so often that they became virtually meaningless. The word is now so far from its fearsome roots that we must use words like awesome to convey its former meaning.