O, o: From the Canaanite aiyn “eye,” although in the modern alphabet, it more resembles the open mouth of someone pronouncing the letter. Its simple shape has changed not at all in thousands of years. The Greeks called it mikron, “small.”
onomatopoeia: A word, which, strangely enough, does not sound the least bit like what it means.
orgasm: The kinship to organ is more distant than we are first tempted to believe. Organ derives from the Greek root organo- and ultimately from erg “to work,” and orgasm from orge, “impulse,” and ultimately the Proto-Indo European root –uerg, “to swell.” Partridge notes that the –asm ending, while associated with abstract nouns, seems to connote more vigorous activity than –ism: to wit, orgasm, enthusiasm, spasm. (Origins. Greenwich House, New York: 1983)
oxymoron: A self-contradictory phrase such as “pretty ugly,” the word itself is an oxymoron, derived from the Greek oxus “sharp-witted” and moros, “stupid.” From moros, of course, we also get moron as well as sophomore, another oxymoron, sophos meaning “wisdom,” so that sophomore literally means something like “wise idiot.”
Coming November 31st, the RETURN OF THE STOOPID CONTEST