There are some words, like some people and some songs, that you just can’t get out of your head – they keep coming back to you. And sometimes when they come back they mean a different thing each time.
One word like that is kyle. As a noun, it has three different origins and three different meanings. One is ‘sore, ulcer, or boil’, coming from Old Norse kyli ‘boil, abscess’. Another refers to a small iron wedge that holds the head of a hammer (or similar implement) onto the shaft; it’s related to German Keil. The third is ‘narrow channel, strait’; it comes from Gaelic caol (pronounced about like “kale”). If you know someone named Kyle – or if that’s your name – you’ll be relieved to know that the personal name comes from that third sense.
Which is not to say all Kyles are strait-laced. Certainly not all Kylies are. I don’t know about you, but when I see Kylie I immediately come back to Kylie Minogue, the pop star who had a huge hit with her 2001 “Can’t Get You Out of My Head.”
Funny thing about Kylie, though. She’s from Australia. And while I don’t know what her parents had in mind when naming her, there’s another word from Australia we need to come around to: kylie. It’s not very common in current use, but it’s still in the dictionary.
What’s a kylie? It’s another distinctly Australian thing: a boomerang. The word comes from Noongar, one of the indigenous (Aborigine) languages of southwest Australia. So it’s fitting that Kylie has had many happy returns.
Just as a little tangent: her family name Minogue traces back to an Irish Gaelic word meaning ‘monk’. Kylie doesn’t seem very monastic… I guess she came around.