Sunday, 27 September 2020

Etymology: Homonyms and Homographs

Whilst I am always interested in learning new words, it is the never so much the meaning as the origins which intrigue me. A couple of years ago I looked at words with different usages, despite sounding the same or having identical spellings. 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 K before, now continue with a selection of others:

Lead has one spelling and two pronunciations: rhyming with 'head' and it is a heavy metal, a word of uncertain origin but one which in Germanic languages is related to words meaning 'weight, plummet'. The latter is clearly related to the Latin word for lead, plumbum, which has also given it the chempical symbol Pb. Used to rhyme with 'heed' it means 'to guide, in front of'. Here the word is derived from Germanic and Proto-Indo-European where the meaning wa s'to go forth'.

Left can be the opposite of right or the past participle of remain. The former is from related Germanic tongues such as Old English, Frisian, Old Dutch, etc., where the original sense was 'weak, foolish'

Light as in illumination or the opposite of heavy. The noun is derived from the verb, the earliest man-mad illumination being fire, hence this comes from Proto-Indo-European leuk and meaning 'brightness'. As an adjective the source is Proto-Indo-European legwh, with early derivatives used to mean 'agile, quick'. As Proto-Indo-European words the difference in pronunciation would have been evident, it is only that modern pronunciations are identical and not deliberately so, for the two words have nothing else in common.

Long can be used to mean 'not short' and 'to yearn'. The linear ,eaning comes from Proto-Indo-European dlonghos, used to mean 'distant, remote' as well as 'long, extended'. As a verb meaning 'to grieve, yearn' it likely comes from an early loan from the idea of remoteness, as in the sense of something not near.

Lie, be it an untruth or to be horizontal, have quite different origins. The recumbent position can be traced through the Germanic tongues, where the use is more in the sense of 'to remain', back to Proto-Indo-European legh when, conversely, it did originally mean 'to lie down'. The falsehood sense is also Germanic, giving words used in Old Norse, Dutch, Danish, Old Frisian, Old High German, Old Saxon and Old English - all the earliest uses meant 'deceive' or 'betray'.

Match has no less than three different meanings. Firstly as a verb, used in the sense of 'evenly matched' it came from one the noun meaning 'equal'. Prior to the Middle English macche meaning 'equal', the wod had very different meanings: Old English maecca 'companion, mate, wife, husband'; Old High German gimah 'comfort, ease'; German gemach 'easy, leisurely'; Proto-Germanic gamakon 'fitting well together'; and right back to Proto-Indo-European mag 'toknead, fashion, fit'. In the sense of the match as a method of producing fire we find: Old French meiche referred to 'the wick of a candle'; Greek myxa 'lamp wick' and originally 'mucus'; and thus Proto-Indo-European meug 'slimy, slippery'. To see why 'wick' and 'mucus' might have a common root we need to forget the candle wick and see the wick of an oil lamp, which dangles from the spout of the lamp.

May, a verb meaning 'having the power' or 'to be able', has hardly changed at all in pronunciation throughout the evolution of the Germanic languages and back as far as Proto-Indo-European magh, all having the same meaning. When it comes to the fifth month of the year, the origin is from that other major western European language family, the Latin group. Here the French Mai comes from Latin Maius, thought to be the Roman earth goddess Maja, Maia. This wife of Vulcan, her name may (pun intended) be derived from Proto-Indo-European meg or 'great'.

Mole can be a skin blemish, in which case the name is Germanic and from Proto-Germanic mailan 'spot, mark' and Proto-Indo-European mai 'stain, defile'; and also a small burrowing insectivorous mammal. The mammal is probably from a Germanic root of mold 'loose earth', itself leading to the now obsolete term moldwarp 'earth thrower'.

All these examples have one thing in common, they are all monosyllabic. And that is the reason for the different meanings and origins. With only five vowels (six if you count 'y') and twenty-one consonants there is a finite number of sounds which can be made when the words only have one syllable.

Saturday, 19 September 2020

New Words

I recently came across E. E. Cummings and a poem where he coined the word manunkind. Not normally overly delighted with modern created words, but this example, published in 1944, intrigued me. Used in the poem to describe a potential environmental problem, it started me looking at other recently created words. Note I've tried to avoid technological and scientific words.

Bling has been used since at least 1997, although initially often given as bling-blingm and started by American rappers. Despite the recent creation the origin is by no means certain but may well have been based on the German blinken 'to gleam, sparkle'.

Crunk is a style of music, the word becoming popular in the 1990s. It is thought to be a contraction of 'crazy drunk', the same word also used to mean 'good'.

Grrrl is a contraction of 'grrr' and 'girl', describing a young woman who sees herself as independent, strong, and possibly aggressive.

Jeggings are tight-fitting trousers, similar to leggings but made from denim - hence a combination of 'jeans' and 'leggings'.

Listicle is a piece of writing presented in list form, thus part 'list' and part 'article'.

Locavore is another portmanteau, is puts together two elements which describe someone who eats local produce. (I would have preferred to learn it was one who ate the locals.)

Noob is an abbreviation of 'newbie' but used in a derogatory sense by those playing computer games. Note 'newbie' has only been used since 1969, this first used by US military. In 1946 we find newie, in 1909 we first see newing or 'new thing' and referring to a naval cadet on their first training session, and in the 15th century newing which is a contraction of 'new thing'.

Po-Po, recently starting to be used in Britain and appearing in the OED since 2015, has been imported from the USA where it began in the 1980s as an abbreviation for Portland Police and what was shouted by lookouts used by gangs to warn of the imminent arrival of the constabulary.

Purple State is another US import, one which describes an electorate which is neither traditionally right (blue) or left (red) and thus a mix or purple. In the United Kingdom we would normally refer to such seats as marginals.

Screenager is a teenager who spends a lot of time in front of a screen, such as a computer or a phone.

Totes is an abbreviation for 'totally', where the word is used rather ungrammatically such as in the phrase 'it was like totally amazing'. For those of an earlier time, 'totes' would have been a method of gambling similar to a lottery where numbers are predicted or a form of horseracing betting.

Truthiness is a weird word for it doesn't quite mean what seems evident. Here the use is to describe something which appears or is felt as true, but isn't - rather like the word then.

Whovian is someone who is a fan of the television series Doctor Who. This is, of course, the modern era of the series. When it first aired on BBC in black and white and ran with actors William Hartnell to Sylvester McCoy, these would have been science-fiction enthusiasts.

Yarn-Bombing is that weird idea of decorating a tree, bench, metal pole or barrier with a knitted something. I'm told it's a fund-raiser, but then I'm told many things are fund-raisers and I don't see the point of those either.

Many new words are portmanteaus, itself a word coined by Lewis Carroll, describing words made by combining two or more other words. In Old English, Anglo-Saxon if you prefer, the same was true although those were referred to as kennings. Words such as ban-haus or 'bone house' which is a reasonable enough description of the body. Other portmanteau words created in the 21st century include badassy, droolworthy, buzzworthy, fatberg, frankenfood, guyliner, microaggression.

Saturday, 12 September 2020

Etymologies of Homonyms and Homographs

Whilst I am always interested in learning new words, it is never so much the meaning as the origins which intrigue me. A couple of years ago I looked at words with different usages, despite sounding the same or having identical spellings. 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 H before, now continue with a selection of others:

Iron is a very old word with common roots for this noun in Celtic isarnon, Sanskrit isirah, and Proto-Indo-European isero. All this mean such as 'vigorous, strong, holy, powerful, etc., this showing iron was stronger than the earlier bronze metal. As a verb, meaning to remove the creases from clothes, it is unknown before 1670 and (rather predictably) because the heated implement was made from that metal. Science gives us the ion, a word from the Greek and originally meaning 'to go'.

Jam, when used as a verb, likely comes from the same root as Middle English cham meaning to 'bite or gnash' and seen in the modern word 'chomp'. Asa noun, used for the fruit preserve, not seen written until 1730 and comes from the verb for jam could be seen as crushed fruit. Jamb, the side of a door or window, comes from old French jambe meaning 'a leg shank', presumably likening the shape of the latter to the former.

Journey again is used as a verb and as a noun. The original fourteenth century use of the verb would have the modern synonym 'commute', for this came from Old French and simply meant 'a day's work or travel'. As a noun, which is how it is most commonly used today, refers to the act of travelling.

Key in the most common usage refers to that which opens a lock, comes from a Proto-Germanic meaning 'to cleave, split', which is exactly what unlocking could be said to represent. In a musical sense it came from the French and Latin, and shares a root with another musical term 'clef'. Quay comes from Old French where the landing place was simply a chai or 'sandbank'.

Kind as an adjective comes from a Germanic root which has also given us 'kin', thus the sense was originally suggesting kindness began with one's family. Using it to mean 'variety, type' has the same origin, for the sense 'nature, race' suggests cynn or 'family'.

Know, as in 'to perceive, be aware', comes from Proto-Indo-European and has hardly changed since gno. No, every child's favourite word, is predictably one of our oldest words. Less predictable is how the English root is in 'not', hence the opposite was once 'to be' rather than 'affirmative'.

Sunday, 6 September 2020

Venezuela 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 I cast my net a little wider. As English place names share some links to other tongues it would be interesting to see if any of the elements contributing to our place names could be found elsewhere. Continuing an alphabetical tour of the world and a look at the largest Venezuelan cities.

Caracas, the capital city, named by Spanish explorers after the local tribe, it was originally known as Santiago de Leon de Caracas where Saint James, the patron saint of Spain, preceded Don Pedro Ponce de Leon, the provincial governor.

Maracaibo is held to be from the brave cacique or chief named Mara, who resisted and was killed fighting the Spanish. Legend says the name comes from Mara kayo meaning 'Mata fell!. Others give the originas maara iwo or 'place where serpents abound' - you can see why the legend is preferred.

Valencia is clearly a transferred name from Spain. While the Spanish origin is clearly irrelevant here, it is noted the name means 'strength, valour'.

Barquisimeto comes from the local Caquetio people who describe the region of 'the ash-coloured river'.

Barcelona, like Valencia, is a name transferred from Spain where the name is said to remember Hamilcar Barca, supposed founder of the place in the 3rd century BC.

Maturin was named after the Indian chief El Indio Maturin.

Merida is named after the home town of founder Juan Rodriguez Suarez. The Spanish place name comes from the Latin emerita meaning 'retired, veteran'.

Ciudad Bolivar is 'the city Bolivar'. Simon Bolivar was a Venezuelan military and political leader known as The Liberator.

Barinas comes from the local tongue and describes a seasonal strong wind.

Los Teques takes its name from the indigenous tribe Aroctoeques Carabs.

Punto Fijo was said to refer to a place where travellers and fishermen stopped, for it means 'the fixed point'.

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