Sunday, 18 September 2022

Synonym Etymologies Y

Continuing the look at synonyms through the eyes of the etymologist, this time it is the letter Y and young. This came to English through the Germanic group of languages, Proto-Germanic junga coming from Proto-Indo-European yuwn-ko 'vital force, youthful vigor'. The noun, used to refer to offspring, is first recorded in the 15th century.

Youth is, unsurprisingly, from the same root as 'young'.


Juvenile is from the Latin iuvenilis and iuvenis the latter meaning 'young man'. Note for the Romans a juvenile came after adolescence, thus anything from 21 up to as old as 40.

Junior, as with young, saw the noun, first recorded in 1520, coming from the adjective. Again this is of Latin derivation, where iunior meant 'younger'. Used to mean the younger generation from 1620s, and of lesser standing from 1766, the Proto-Indo-European root is the same as for 'young'.

Adolescent, unlike 'junior' and 'young', had the adjective taken from the noun. Unchanged since coming to English from French, with the same meaning and spelling, and Latin adolescentem meaning 'young man or woman', we can trace it back further to the Proto-Indo-European al 'to grow, nourish'.

Teenage is unrecorded before 1911 when it is first seen in records of Sunday School classes. The 'age' suffix is obvious and it follows a syllable which comes from 'ten'.


Immature is the opposite of mature and shares an origin with it. As an adjective it comes from the verb, itself used for plantlife for most of recorded history. It is traceable back to Proto-Indo-European meh-tu 'ripeness'.

Child comes from Proto-Germanic kiltham, which has given words in many Germanic languages with such meanins as 'womb', 'pregnant', 'litter', 'of gentle birth', and even simply 'girl child'. It has so far proven impossible to trace it back further than Proto-Germanic.

Baby is a diminutive of 'babe', the earlier form of the word. This came from the 13th century word baban, itself imitative of baby talk. Note, the term might mean infant, but related words in other languages have the rather different meaning or 'old woman', such as in the Russian babushka and baba 'peasant woman'.


Progeny came to English in the 14th century from the French progenie. We can trace this back to Proto-Indo-European pro 'forth' and gignere 'produce, beget' and related to gene 'birth, beget'.

Heir came to English from Old French oir and Latin heredem, all from the same root as 'heredity' in the Proto-Indo-European ghe 'to be empty, left behind' and the reason we see words such as the Greek khera 'widow'.

Descendants shares an etymology with 'descend' and the Proto-Indo-European root skand 'jump'.

Successors shares an etymology with 'succeed' in the Proto-Indo-European ked 'to go, yield'.

Kids was not used for human children until the later 16th century, prior to that simply referring to the young of goats. As the latter we can trace the etymology to Proto-Germanic kidjom with the same meaning. Unfortunately, the trail ends there.

Sunday, 11 September 2022

Synonym Etymologies X

Continuing the look at synonyms through the eyes of the etymologist, this time it is the letter X and xanth. For once I am unable to offer synonyms, hence I chose 'xanth' as it has several uses. Best known would be as a colour, where it comes from the Greek xanthos 'yellow'.

Dalla xantha is a butterfly native to Colombia.

Xantha is also a girl's name, one most often given to those with blonde hair.


Caladenia xantha is native to Western Australia and has the common name primrose spider orchid.


Xantha is the home planet of Kurrgo, a character in the Marvel Comics series featuring the Fantastic Four.


Falsilunatia xantha is a species of predatory sea snail.


Xantha was a Greek and Bulgarian diesel ship designed to carry livestock, but has subsequently been renamed Solyst and later Sea Maid.

Tuesday, 6 September 2022

Synonym Etymologies W

Continuing the look at synonyms through the eyes of the etymologist, this time it is the letter W and walk. With its many oddities, the English language is a fascinating subject. But even for English 'walk' has a very odd etymology. Only since around 1200 has it been used in its modern sense, prior to that it was unknown. It is derived from the amalgamation of two Old English words: wealcan 'to toss, move about' and wealcian 'to roll up, curl'. Both come from the Proto-Germanic welk 'to drag' and Proto-Indo-European wel 'to turn, revolve'. While these early meanings seem to have no link to 'walking', they do suggest movement.


Pace comes from the Old French pas, with the same meaning, as does its root, the Latin passus. Tracing it back further, we find an earlier Latin root of pandere 'to stretch (specifically the leg), to spread out' and Proto-Indo-European pete 'to spread'.

Saunter is first seen in the late 15th century as santren, but with a rather different meaning of 'to muse, be in reverie'. The walking sense is first recorded around 1660, and there are some who think the two words are unrelated. Sadly, nothing is known earlier than these dates for either sense.

Tread came to English along the Germanic language line, with Old English tredan, Proto-Germanic tred, and other very similar forms in related languages. The Proto-Indo-European root is der 'to run, walk, step'. Note the first record of anyone treading water dates from 1764, although clearly the same technique had been used for millennia.


Step is another of Germanic origins, beginning with Old English steppan, through Old Frisian stapa, to Proto-Indo-European stebh. All of these mean 'step', apart from the earliest Proto-Indo-European where the sense is more 'post, stem, to support', and thus the original sense referred more to the legs taking the step, rather than the distance travelled.

Stride is seen in Old English stridan, which was used more in the sense of 'astride' today. Tracing it through other Germanic languages we see the term is most often used as the word 'strive' is today in English.


Stroll came to English from the German strollen 'to stroll about, loaf'. It is related to Strolch 'vagabond, vagrant, fortuneteller' and Italian astrologo 'astrologer', thus likely seen as an action lacking any true purpose or goal.

Amble came to English from Old French ambler 'at a steady pace' and most often referred to a horse or deer. This in turn came from Latin ambulare 'to walk about' and ultimately from Proto-Indo-European ambhi 'around'.

Plod is thought to be imitative of the sound of walking, although its etymology is unknown and only came into being around 1560.


Hike may have been seen in 1809, but did not come into general use until the 20th century. Its etymology is a mystery.


Trudge is unknown before the 1540s, and the etymology unknown.

Wander is a Germanic word which has never changed in meaning, until we come to Proto-Indo-European wendh meaning to 'wind, weave, turn' and clearly the modern verb 'to wend'.

Ramble is simply a derivative of 'roam', the vowel canges typical of the language group.

Tramp is related to 'stamp', and ultimately shares a root with 'tread' above.

Trek can be traced back to Old High German trechan 'to draw'. If this seems strange, it will be explained when we realise that between those the word was used to mean 'to travel or migrate by wagon' as recently as 1850 and as a noun the previous year referring to 'the stage of a journey by ox wagon'.

March came to English from Old French marcher 'to stride, walk, march', and probably from Gallo-Roman marcare 'hammering', and thus related to 'tramping the feet'.

Synonym Etymologies V

Continuing the look at synonyms through the eyes of the etymologist, this time it is the letter V and vice. Vice is a word with two very different meanings - the crime is probably the first to come to mind for most, although those with an interest in DIY and/or engineering and carpentry might think of the device which grips items firmly while being worked on. Synonyms for either are difficult to find, but the etymology of these two very different words is interesting. As a crime it came to English from Old French vice meaning 'fault, failing, defect', itself traceable to Latin vitium 'defect, offence, blemish, imperfection' and used in both moral and physical senses. For the tool, the word also came through the Old French and Latin route, where French vis meant 'screw' and Latin vitis meant 'vine'. The Latin 'vine' refers to how the plant winds itself around its support, and the French refers to the thread resembling the winding of the vine. Thus the gripping or clamping tool, usually attached to a workbench, is named for the screw which operates the grips and not the grips themselves. We can also take it back to Proto-Indo-European wei 'to turn, bend' and thus the vine is also known for its winding growth.


Morality is questioned when speaking of vice, clearly from 'moral', this can be traced to Latin moralis 'proper behaviour of a person'. Moral shares a Proto-Indo-European root with 'mood' in coming from a word which referred more to 'anger, courage, bravery, wrath, intention' depending upon context.

Wrong came to English from Proto-Germanic wrang meaning 'crooked, wrong' and earlier to Proto-Indo-European wer 'to turn, bend'. This is also the root for 'wring', as in wringing out wet clothes and wringing our hands to show mood.

Wicked is an adjective which is derived from the Old English wicca meaning 'wizard, witch'. Earlier the trail finds Proto-Germanic wikkjaz 'necromancer' and Proto-Indo-European weg 'be strong, lively'.


Bad is rarely found as the opposite of 'good' before 1400 - the normal usage being 'evil'. Prior to that the word is normally only found in surnames and the etymology of 'bad' is uncertain.

Evil has never changed its meaning since the time of Proto-Indo-European wap, even though the later forms were rather different - such as Old High German ubil, Old Frisian evel, Gothic ubilis, and even Hittite huwapp - all have the same meaning of 'evil'.


Crime comes from Old French crimne 'mortal sin', Latin crimen 'charge, indictment, accusation', and back to Proto-Indo-European krei 'to seive'.


Offence in the 14th century this word meant 'hurt, harm, injury, pain' and came from the Latin where offendere also gave us the word 'offend'.

Depravity, from deprave, comes from Old French depraver and Latin depravare meaning 'pervert, accuse' and 'distort, disfigure' respectively. The word can be taken back a little further where the prefix de 'completely' precedes the Latin pravus 'crooked'. Sadly the etymological route ends there.

Degenerate can be traced back to Proto-Indo-European gene 'give birth, beget'.

Misconduct is seen since 1780, with the prefix mis meaning 'bad, wrong' added to conduct. Again there is a prefix here, con meaning 'with, together' preceding the Latin root of ducere 'to lead' and derived from Proto-Indo-European deuk with the same meaning of 'to lead'.

Sunday, 21 August 2022

Synonym Etymologies U

Continuing the look at synonyms through the eyes of the etymologist, this time it is the letter U and union. Old English, Old French and Latin have very similar words - unioun, union, and unionem respectively - have a Latin root of unus 'one', and Proto-Indo-European oi-no 'one, unique'. Note the word 'onion' has the same origin, a reference to the many layers uniting in a single vegetable.


Join is a simple word, just a single syllable, and clear evidence it is an ancient word. Coming to English from Old French and Latin, the word can be traced back to Proto-Indo-European yeug 'to join'.

Merge had a rather different original meaning of 'to plunge or sink in', a now obsolete sense but why the word is derived from Latin mergere 'to dip in, immerse'. The Proto-Indo-European root is mezgo 'to wash, plunge, dip, sink', and a word which is seen in Sanskrit majjanti 'to sink, dive', Lithuanian mazgoju 'to wash', and Latvian mazgat also 'to wash'. The change from the original meaning to the present one had to negotiate another couple of changes on the way. From 1726 one record shows the word was used to mean 'to be swallowed by, lose identity, disappear into', there is also a record from 1728 where the meaning is 'cause to be absorbed, vanish into something else'. The current sense is seen from 1805.

Fuse is first seen in 1680, with a meaning of 'melt, make liquid', it is a case of back-formation from 'fusion'. Not until 1817 do we find the sense 'blend, unite', and not until 1873 of 'become intermingled, blended'.


Combine is from Old French combiner, Late Latin combinare, and Proto-Indo-European dwo, meaning 'to unite', 'with, together', and 'two' respectively'.

Amalgamate, used in the sense of 'union' from 1797, is from 'amalgam'. This specifically describes blending another metal with mercury and comes from Old French amalgame and Latin amalgama, the latter particularly referring to a blend of mercury with gold or silver. We also find Arabic al-malgham, an alchemist's word referring to 'an emollient poultice or ungent for sores'. It is related to the Greek malagma 'softening substance' and goes back to Proto-Indo-European mel 'soft'.


Alliance once meant 'bond of marriage' around the end of the 13th century. Dervied from Old French aliance, with the same meaning, it comes from 'ally'. Latin alligare 'bind, tie to' gave us the French word, and came from the Proto-Indo-European root leig also mean 'tie, bind'.

Partner came to English from Old French parconier 'partner, associate', and Latin partitonem 'a sharing, division, distribution'. All these share a root in Proto-Indo-European pere 'to grant, allot'.

Syndicate is from 'syndic', a name describing a civil magsitrate, one seen in Geneva and other places. From the Latin syndicus and Greek syndikos, the root is Proto-Indo-European ksun meaning 'with'.

Sunday, 14 August 2022

Synonym Etymologies T

Continuing the look at synonyms through the eyes of the etymologist, this time it is the letter T and top. Top was the Old English version almost 1,500 years ago, and few words are as generic as this word from the Germanic family which it always has the same meaning, albeit with slightly different usages. The Proto-Germanic root of toppa has also given us Old Norse toppr 'tuft of hair', Old Frisian top 'tuft', and Old Dutch topp Dutch top, and Old High German zopf all meaning 'end, tuft of hair'. Hence the use is for the upper part or surface and has been since well before recorded history some four thousand or more years ago.

Summit came to English from Old French somete, itself related to Latin summum and that connected to Latin super meaning 'over'.

Peak is a variation on 'pike', itself meaning ;sharp point' and traceable back to Vulgar Latin piccare 'to pick, pierce'.


Pinnacle also came from Old French and Latin, with pinacle and pinnaculum respectively. This is derived from the same root as 'pin', the Germanic family root being penn 'jutting point or peak'.

Crest came to English, where it was first used to refer to the highest part of the helmet, from Old French creste 'the tuft-like plume'. It can be traed back to Proto-Indo-European sker 'to bend'.

Crown another with an Old French corone and Latin corona history, where the original use of the Latin was to mean 'wreath, garland'. All are related to the Greek korone 'kind of crown', and traceable to Proto-Indo-European sker 'to bend'.


Brow had always been the eyebrow, with the occasional use of 'forehead' from 1400, since the Proto-Indo-European bhru.


Head is another ancient word, with similar forms in all Germanic languages, and all traceable to Proto-Indo-European kaput 'head'.

Brink is most often used to mean 'edge' and that was the meaning of the Proto-Indo-European root bhreng.

Apex is a Latin word and comes from another Latin word apere 'to fasten, fix' and coming from Proto-Indo-European ap 'to take, reach'.

Acme is a Greek word derived from the Proto-Indo-European ak 'be sharp, to rise to a point'.


Highest is from 'high' and, along with almost all similar Germanic words, comes from Proto-Indo-European kouko 'hill'.

Lid is another sense, and seen in many Germanic tongues with the same meaning, all coming from Proto-Indo-European klito 'to lean'.

Top is also used to mean other things: the best part is unknown before 1660; the highest place first seen in 1620; the phrase 'over the top' is used in World War I to refer to an attack, and the same phrase seen in the sense of 'beyond reasonable limits' from as recently as 1968. The name of the toy has a very different etymology, and comes from the Old French topet and is derived from a type of seashell. The spinning top as a toy is first seen in 1680s.

Sunday, 7 August 2022

Bank Holiday

This year, when we had an extra bank holiday in June to mark the Platinum Jubilee of her Majesty, we in England have an extra day added to the eight we normally get, Scotland get nine annually, and Northrn Ireland ten each year. It is no coincidence that I mention Bank Holidays, for it was 150 years this year that the first bank holiday was celebrated in the UK.


As Christmas Day and Good Friday had been common law holidays for hundreds of years, the idea of a Bank Holiday gave nominated days in the calendar the same status - that no payments or perform any task could be forced upon anyone that could not be forced on them on Christmas Day or Good Friday. Introduced by Liberal politican Sir John Lubbock, the Act dated December 1871 gave Easter Monday, Whit Monday, Boxing Day and the First Monday in August as holidays in England, Wales and Ireland; while Scotland had New Year's Day, Good Friday, First Monday in May, First Monday in August, and Christmas Day.


Since then St Patrick's Day was added in Ireland in 1903, New Year's Day in England in 1974; and Boxing Day in Scotland also added in 1974. From 1965, and initially as an experiment, the August Bank Holiday was moved to the last Monday in August in order to shorten the gap between August Bank Holiday and Christmas. For those first few years, Parliament would announce the date of August Bank Holiday each year. Yet the date would be based on the last Saturday in August, which resulted in August Bank Holiday in the years 1968 and 1969 falling in September. Eventually England, Wales and ireland had the August Bank Holiday moved permanently to the end of August, although Scotland retains the original first Monday to this day.


St Andrews Day has been a bank holiday in Scotland since 2007, and there is currently talk of doing the same for St George's Day in England and St David's Day in Wales. Correctly these, and the other days, are no longer bank holidays, for the Bank Holidays Act of 1871 was repealed in 1971 and superseded by the Banking and Financial Dealings Act of 1971. No surprise that title never caught on.