When a North Pole high school student found herself in the girls’ bathroom blocked by several boys, who were trying to stage a strange protest against a transgendered male using the boys’ bathroom, she kicked one in the crotch. 

Now she finds herself expelled from school.

The word “expel” has a long history with school punishment. The first recorded use of the word “expel” meaning “to eject a student from school “is in the 1640s.

But for as long as the word has been in English, it has essentially retained its Latin meaning: “to drive out or drive away.” In the Latin root “expellere,” the prefix “ex-” means “out,” and the base word “pellere” means “to drive.”

Pellere developed from the prolific Proto-Indo-European root “pel-,” meaning “to thrust,” “strike” or drive.” We can see this root in a variety of words, such as “anvil,” “filter,” “pulse” and even “polish.”

School officials are in full-on polishing mode as they try to address criticisms of their decision to expel from parents, students and state-elected officials. Meanwhile, some read the story as one of empowerment: Some see a teenage girl finding herself in a strange and threatening situation who uses the classic but effective crotch-kick to get herself out of it. (Note: full details of the incident have not been released, but this is certainly how some are reading the story.)

The word “crotch” dates to the 1530s when it meant “pitchfork.”

I know. Pitchfork? But hold on — it will make sense in a minute.

“Crotch” comes from the Old French “croche,” meaning s”hepherd’s crook.” Croche is a variant of the French “croc,” or “hook.” While most French words are of Latin origin, this one derived from Old Norse, speaking to its nearly ancient European roots. That is, Old Norse dates to around the eighth century.

The Old Norse root in this case is “krokr,” meaning “hook.” Beyond that, linguists aren’t too sure where the word came from. But they do believe it belongs to a group of old Germanic words that begin with kr-, which were normally used for words meaning bent or hooked.

In the 1570s, “crotch” came to mean any kind of fork or forking, as in the parting branches of tree.

Are you starting to see the connection now?

And a couple of decades later at the turn of the 17th century, “crotch” was used to label any region where the body forks. So, what we call armpits today might have been called crotches back then. Even the space between your fingers and toes might be considered a crotch, too.

But when we see a headline that says a girl kicked a boy in the crotch, we don’t think: “Wow, she must have impeccable aim if she can target a boy between his thumb and forefinger!” or “Dang, she must have some sick ninja skills if she can bring someone to his knees by kicking him in his armpit!”

Instead, when we read crotch in this context, we think of the groin. I can’t find a distinct time in crotch’s word history where the two became synonymous in this context. My guess is that the clothing industry began to use the word crotch for the area where the pant legs come together, and were also developing other terms for other parts of the body. For instance, in shirts, the armpit area is called the underarm; in gloves, where the fingers branch, the term is quirk, a small piece of fabric sewn between fingers to increase mobility. So, the domain of the crotch became where the legs meet, and the object of a determined girl’s kick.

Linguists have found instances of the word “kick” in English documents dating as far back as the late 14th century, but beyond that, we aren’t too sure where the word originates. It could possibly come from the Old Norse “kikna,” which means “to bend backward by sinking at the knees.”

But the word didn’t really become popular until the King James Version of the Bible was published in 1611, which translated a phrase from Acts 26:14 as “kick against the pricks” (in reference to Saul defying the goading of Christ to stop persecuting Christians).

After that, the word came to figuratively mean complain, protest, rebel and making a strong objection. To kick, then, in some situations, was less about striking someone or something with your foot, and more about making a statement with such a gesture. Like Saul refusing the call of God, kicking meant rebelling.

And rebels kick hard.