Are You Ready for a 'Double-Cross-Word' Puzzle?

By Rob Kyff

April 29, 2020 4 min read

Let's play "Guess the Word Origin!" Can you select the correct derivation of these terms?

1. When someone betrays an ally, it's called a "double cross" because ...

A. Writing one "X" over another voids the first X.

B. Two hot-cross buns were used as a signal to begin an attempted coup in England in 1605.

C. The two crosses are associated with the two thieves crucified with Jesus.

D. Such traitors and deceivers often looked cross-eyed at their victims.

2. Boarders (people who live in rooming houses) are so called because ...

A. Many worked in sawmills making boards.

B. They often slept on boards.

C. Their food was served on long boards.

D. Rooming houses were made from wooden boards.

3. "Free-wheeling," meaning loose and undisciplined, derives from ...

A. A steering wheel that's easy to turn.

B. A style used in riding unicycles.

C. Free rides once available on stern-wheel steamboats.

D. A car designed to coast with its engine disengaged.

4. "Jaded," meaning dulled by overindulgence or worn out by overwork, derives from ...

A. Aristocrats who owned so many items made of jade that they didn't appreciate them.

B. Blue jays, whose bright color soon becomes tiring.

C. The Icelandic word for a mare.

D. A variation of "faded."


1: A. In the 1800s, many illiterate people signed their names with an X (a cross). By folk tradition, writing another X over the first one, that is, double crossing, voided the original signature.

2: C. Early inns and rooming houses served food on long boards, so people who paid by the week for a space at the board were called "boarders."

3: D. During the early 1930s, engineers designed cars that would automatically coast freely downhill without being slowed by their engines. After many accidents and burned out brakes, these "free-wheelers" were discontinued.

4: C. When English explorers searched Iceland, they encountered a native-born mare much smaller and scrawnier than an English horse. The Icelandic word for "mare" sounded like "jade," and Brits began applying this term to any horse that looked skinny and exhausted. Soon, they were using the term "jaded" to describe people who had been worn out by witnessing so many amazing or deplorable things that they were incapable of feeling either excitement or outrage at these events.

(The green gemstone jade, by the way, takes its name from the Spanish "piedra de la ijada," literally "stone of the loins," because jade was believed to cure pain in the kidneys.)

Rob Kyff, a teacher and writer in West Hartford, Connecticut, invites your language sightings. Send your reports of misuse and abuse, as well as examples of good writing, via email to [email protected] or by regular mail to Rob Kyff, Creators Syndicate, 737 3rd Street, Hermosa Beach, CA 90254.

Photo credit: girlart39 at Pixabay

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