Sunday, 10 July 2022

Synonym Etymologies P

Continuing the look at synonyms through the eyes of the etymologist, this time it is the letter P and pen. Pen has two senses, the place where animals are kept, and the writing implement. We will deal with them in this order. Sadly the Old English penn is as far back as the word can be traced, it having the same meaning, although there are some who think it might be related to Old English pinn which means 'pin' and also 'peg'. The idea here being it refers to the peg which kept the lock-up closed. And before we look at the synonyms, the other meaning, that of writing implement, which is much easier to trace back. This sense comes from the Latin penna 'a feather' - which is just what was used for writing for almost all of history.

Enclosure, from enclose, and the Old French enclos 'surround, confine'. Clearly this shares a root with 'close', which also came to English from French, and all derived from the root in Proto-Indo-European where klau meant 'hook, peg, nail, pin'. This is another clue to the possible origin of pen in pinn.

Fold is a word which was only seen in Old English and related languages. It seems this can only have come from a general Germanic word which is seen in East Frisian folt and Dutch vaalt both of which mean 'dunghill', and thus a place where both could be found.

Pound is from a late Old English kenning pundfald or 'penfold'. Here the animal was held in both a 'pen' and a 'fold'.

Sty is from Proto Germanic stijan, itself producing Old English stig, Old Norse stia, Old High German stiga, Danish sti, and Swedish stia, all being used to mean a place for pigs, and also used as a place where dogs, sheep, goats, and cattle were housed.

Coop is another word of Germanic origins, with similar words in related languages. To understand this we need to understand the original coop was not a wooden shed-like construction but a large wicker enclosed basket. This then makes the link to Latin cupa 'tub, cask' more easy to see. We can trace it back further to Proto-Indo-European keup 'hollow mound', which has also given us the word 'cup'.

Cage naturally follows, and this came to English from Old French where cage referred to a 'cage, prison, retreat, hideout'. Unsurprisingly it shares a root with 'cave'.

Confine comes from the French verb confiner 'to border, shut up, enclose'. This comes from the noun 'confines', itself from the prefix 'con-' meaning 'together' and the root of 'finish'.

Surround once only referred to a watery scene - Middle English surrounden 'to flood, overflow' - and came through the Latin line from Proto-Indo-European wed- meaning 'water, wet'.

Trap and 'tread' have nearly identical developments. Indeed 'trap' and 'tread' both come from the Proto-Indo-European root dreb meaning 'run, walk, step'. The sense for 'trap' clearly being when the target steps into the snare.

Quill is also a writing implement, but historically only referred to the hollow stem of the feather (and also to 'a stalk, a reed'). As a writing implement the word is unknown before 1550, and in referring to the porcupine quill not until 1600. The word came from Low German quiele, with the same meaning, although its roots are unknown.

Nib is another reference to the writing implement, is seen since 1590, and is identical to 'neb' meaning 'the bill or beak of a bird'.

Biro began as a proprietary name for the ball-point pen, and is named after its inventor, Hungarian Laszlo Biro. Note the rights to produce a ball-point pen was sold to a French company, who were allowed to name it after their founder, Marcel Bich. Although his surname is pronounced 'Bic', the dropping of the final letter ensured there was no mispronunciation by English speakers.

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