Sunday 19 June 2016

Etymologies and Homonyms

Whilst I am always interested in learning new words, it is the never so much the meaning as the origins which intrigue me. Previously I looked at homonyms, a word with two meanings and I looked at the etymologies of these words. Were there two completely different origins and the identical spelling is pure coincidence or has the word simply been used to mean two different things?

Here are another selection and, having done A to F before, now continue with a selection of others:

gill - not the shortened version of the female name Gillian (the name Jill is simply a late alternate spelling), where one of the earliest references is from 1630 in the term 'gill-flirt' referring to 'a giddy young woman'. Here the two meanings are somewhat uncertain, probably owing to the very different meanings of the same word. However the noun describing the breathing organ in fishes likely came to English from Norse tongues, such as Old Danish gaeln and thought to have originated in the Proto-Indo-European ghel-una meaning 'jaw'. The Greek word kheilos or 'lip' has similar beginnings and does tend to support this idea. The term is also used to mean a liquid measure, coming to England from the Old French gille, used in measuring wine, and derived from Latin gillo 'earthenware jar'. The trail becomes blurred here but seems to share an origin with 'gallon', which also originally would describe the vessel used to hold a liquid rather than the volume of liquid it held.

grave - is another where the two most commonest uses are through each having very different origins. Most often associated with death, it came from Old English graef meaning 'ditch', 'trench' and 'cave' as well as somewhere to place a body. This can be traced back to Proto-Indo-European ghrebh meaning 'to dig, scratch, scrape'. This also brought us the third rarely used use. While we tend to use 'engrave' today, originally 'grave' would have been the norm and the 'scratch, scrape' meaning is easy to see in 'engrave'. We also use 'grave' to mean 'weighty, important' and in this case the word came to English rather later from the Old French greve 'terrible, dreadful', itself from Latin gravis or 'heavy, ponderous, burdensome, loaded' and even 'pregnant'. Considering I am writing this on Father's Day to link a word suggesting 'children' with an alternative meaning of 'terrible, dreadful' might be rather bad timing. Yet this sense is undoubtedly the origin as it is also seen in Greek baros 'weight', Sanskrit guruh 'heavy', and from Proto-Indo-European gwere 'heavy'.

groom - here the origins of the meanings are much more closely related, this mainly through the much later beginnings. As a noun in the 12th century grome simply referred to a 'male child'. However within a hundred years it had come to mean 'a youth, young man' and also spoke of a 'male servant, attendeant, minor officer, a knight's squire'. Here the term is thought to be from Germanic growan meaning 'to grow'. As a reference to one who tends horses it clearly came from associations with a knight's squire, by the 19th century having the more general meaning of 'to tend for', and a century later 'prepare for office or succession'. Not until 1600 do we see this used as an abbreviation for 'bridegroom', where Old English brydguma may have been used to mean 'suitor' but is clearly a combination of bryd 'bride' and gruma 'man'. Note the term 'bride' comes from the Proto-Indo-European root bru meaning 'to cook, brew, make broth' - again unlikely to be the most popular revelation on Father's Day.

gross - in these metric times the idea of a dozen dozen, once the most common use, has been replaced by the 'to disgust' and yet the latter use is unknown prior to 1971. The earlier quantity is simply from the Old French gross douzaine or 'a large dozen' by the 16th century and had earlier been used for a weight equal to one-eighth of a dram'. While 'gross' is rarely used to mean 'large, thick' today, it was once used when speaking of the coarseness and quality of cloth. Here the German gross 'large' can still be seen, as can the Latin grossus 'thick, coarse' and used to refer to both food and a person.

hail - as a greeting is from Old Scandinavian heill 'health, prosperity, good luck' and related to Old English waes haeil, itself still used as 'wassail'. Of course we British will associate this more with the weather phenomenon, where the Proto-Indo-European kaghlo 'pebble' is still fairly easily seen in the Greek kakhlex also meaning 'pebble'.

horn - the two meanings are still very much in use, if not the very old joke "Why do cows wear bells? - Because their horns don't work" would have died out years ago. Horn, when speaking of that used on a car, comes from the wind instrument, itself so named as the first were indeed made from animal horns. That part of the animal can be traced back to Proto-Indo-European ker used to mean 'horn, head, uppermost part of the body'. Before anyone writes and points out there is a third use, the sexual usage is acknowledged and has a most interesting etymology. Since at least the 15th century (and possibly since the heyday of the Greeks) the horn has been used to symbolise cuckoldry, perhaps the victim would be seen to grow such on his head, and thus 'horny' in the sense 'aroused' comes from 'horn' being used to mean 'cuckold' - not a nice thing to be but, to my mind, a delightful word.

Sunday 12 June 2016

A Complete Suit of Armour

Yesterday, wearing my hat as a part of Tamworth Literary Festival, I had the pleasure of meeting a number of successful authors. Among them was Christina Smee, author of The Rose of Middleham. She is also the mother of Dominic Smee, who was featured in Channel 4's recreation of Richard III and who is currently raising money to reproduce the king's suit of armour. At Tamworth Literary Festival we are planning a one-off event later this year to allow by Christina and Dominic to show the people of Tamworth to hear their remarkable story.

On hearing the various parts of the suit of armour mentioned, and being fascinated by the development of words, I soon began looking at the etymologies of some of the many terms used for parts of a suit of armour, and beginning with .....

Armour, and obviously the parts going to make it, as we most commonly perceive it was brought to England by the Normans. The earliest surviving use in English dates from 1297, coming from the Old French amure and derived from the Latin armatura meaning 'arms and/or equipment' and from the root armare 'arms or gear'. Note it is only in recent times we have used 'suit of armour', for most of its life it has simply been 'armour'.

Armet is a bowl-shaped helmet covering the entire head and does not have a visor, but folding panels at the cheeks. Clearly the term shares its etymology with the word 'armour'.

Aventail is a piece of chainmail attached to the skull of the helmet covering the neck, throat and shoulders. It comes from the Old French esventail meaning 'air hole'.

Baldric, which is undoubtedly going to prove the most popular in this list, is a belt worn over the shoulder and thus little surprise to find it is from the Old French baldre meaning 'shoulder belt' and a variation on the original Latin balteus meaning 'belt'.

Brassard, that part protecting the arm, comes from Old French bras ard meaning literally 'arm hard'.

Breastplate is clearly a combination of two monosyllablic words. Thus taking each in turn we find the earliest root of 'breast' to be the Proto-Indo-European bhreus meaning 'to swell, sprout'. Oddly 'plate' is a much more recent word - as a table utensil unknown until the 15th century - and originally used to mean anything flat, it comes from the Greek platys 'flat, broad'.

Burgonet is another bowl-shaped helmet but with the distinctive crest. Despite this only being from the 16th century the origins are not clear, however this could be a feminine version of bourgignot and thus 'the Burgundian'.

Coif is the balaclava-like hood of mail, this from Old French coife and other contemporary terms sharing a meaning of 'cap'.

Cuirass is a breastplate, although also used to describe both breast and back plates together. It comes from Latin coriacea vestis 'garment of leather' and earlier from corium 'leather' or 'hide'.

Helm and helmet have idential origins, both ultimately from Proto-Indo-European kel meaning 'to cover, hide'.

Cervelliere is derived from Old French cervel meaning 'brain, head' and is the steel cap worn under the helm.

Bassinet is more headwear and easily seen as coming from the same source as 'basin' and ultimately from bacca 'water vessel'.

Culet is the skirt-like strips of metal covering the buttocks and derived from Old French cul 'bottom' and ultimately from Latin culus 'arse'.

Gauntlet, most often used today as part of a phrase meaning a challenge, is from Proto-Germanic wantuz 'glove'.

Gorget is the name given to the steel collar attached to the top of the breast and back plates. It is derived from Latin collare 'necklace band', earlier kwol-o 'neck' and itself from the root kwel 'move about, turn'.

Hauberk, also recorded as Haubergeon, is a coat of mail which lengthened over the centuries until it came to the knee. Possibly the name tells us the earliest forms had no sleeves, thus really a cape of mail, as the name shares an origin with the previous entry where Proto-Germanic hwals and Proto-Indo-European kwolso referred to the 'neck'.

Tuille are the bands hanging from the breastplate to protect the top of the legs. Here the origins are Old French teuille and Latin tegula meaning 'tile'.

Vambrace is the forearm guard and means just that - avant 'before' and bras 'an arm'.

Visor is from Old French visere and from vis or 'face'. Both are derived from Latin videre 'to see'.

Sunday 5 June 2016

Ethiopia Place Names Explained

Having blogged samples of my books on English place names and also examined the etymologies of the nations of the world and their respective capitals I thought it time to cast my net a little wider. This time Ethiopia and a look at some of its largest settlements and most interesting names and starting with the capital.

Addis Ababa is easily translated from the Amharic addis abeba or 'new flower'. This is not a place where some striking fauna once grew, here the reference is to natural springs.

Dire Dawa is another translation from Amharic and means 'the place of remedy'.

Bahir Dar translates from the Amharic for 'sea shore'.

Arba Minch comes from the Amharic for 'forty springs'.

Debre Marqos is named after its principal church, dedicated to St Mark.

Debre Tabor takes its name from Mount Tabor, the hemispherical hill in an otherwise flat area having a name describing its shape.

Kibre Mengist takes its name from the Amharic for 'glory of the state'.

Tepi is traditionally held to be named after a Majangr man who managed a hive of bees found in a large tree in the marketplace.

Addis Zemen takes us back to the Amharic tongue and a meaning of 'new era'.

Gelemso at last provides us with a little more to say other than the simplest translation. It is thought this comes from the Oromo tongue, where galma Usso means 'the hall of Usso'. This referred to the mosque named after Usso, who came here to preach Islam to the indigenous people who called him ima gossa or 'the adopted son'.

Adis Alem is from Amharic meaning 'new world'.

Note the spellings of the places are English as the piece is written in English.