Sunday 25 October 2020

The Family Business

I'm often asked why I took to writing, to which I answer 'the words'. Not really as flippant as it sounds, for it was my interest in etymology which brought me to writing, as anyone who has followed this blog for any length of time will clearly see. Invariably the next question will be if any other member of the family were writers, was I inspired by a great-uncle or maiden aunt - no, as far as I'm aware I am the only member of my family to have had a book published.

But the question did get me thinking as to what could be thought of as the family business - or rather two families, maternal and paternal lines. A few years ago I did do extensive research on my family and collected quite a bit of information. Hence, I thought it might be interesting to look at some of the jobs my ancestors performed.

I found: two accountants, four labourers, a bricklayer, a carpenter, four who worked at a colliery including an engine worker and a sinker, three coopers, three engineers, four farmers and an agricultural labourer, a gardener, a jeweller, a joiner, a metal worker, two railway workers of which one was a guard, a chauffeur, a lorry driver, a nailer, a tube maker and a mineral agent.

Of more interest were the soldier based in Hampshire with the 47th regiment. a sergeant, who managed to marry the daughter of a Sergeant Major. One day I'll find out a little more about their military career.

I also found a gun action filer, one of the many cottage industries contributing to the production of firearms in Birmingham's Gun Quarter. His job will have been one of many tasks which helped contribute to Birmingham's claim of 1,001 trades.

A pearl button maker, one of many who earned their living in the button trade of the Second City.

Of particular interest were five individuals who earned their living from the coaching routes. Three of my ancestors were coach builders and two others wheelwrights, my interest is because I recently published a book looking at coaching routes in Staffordshire and at least two of these five worked in the county atsome point.

But despite the link with the coaching routes I found my great-grandfather's job the most intriguing. Some will remember the annual furore as hunters took seal pups for their fur. Some 150 years ago my great-grandfather earned a living as a seal plush finisher, in its time a skill and a talent which apparently enabled him to earn a good living.

Sunday 18 October 2020

Etymologies of 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 S before, now to finish the alphabetical list with a selection of others:

Tear comes as either to rend or to cry and, if I had had to choose, the ripping would have been my choice to come first. As you will already have guessed, the crying came first, that from Proto-Indo-European dakru with the same meaning. The ripping 'tear' does not appear in English util the 14th century, prior to that we used synonyms, while this second use is derived from Proto-Indo-European der meaning 'to split, flay, peel'.

Tender meaning soft, easily injured', can be traced back to Greek teren and Sanskrit tarunah, each with identical meaning and themselves from Proto-Indo-European ten 'to stretch, thin, weak, young'. Tender as in 'to offer' came to English from Middle French tendre and from Latin tendere, both from that same Proto-Indo-European root ten and hear used in the sense 'to stretch'.

Tie is either 'to knot' or 'to be equal'. The knot sense came to English from Old Norse tygill 'string', that from Proto-Indo-European deuk 'to lead'. In the competitive sense it is unknown before 1888, it comes from the other use and in the sense of 'connected'.

Tire is to 'make weary', it is derived from Proto-Germanic teuzon and Proto-Indo-European deu, both meaning 'to lack, be wanting'. I make no apologies for using the American spelling 'tire' instead of 'tyre', indeed until the late 19th century we Brits also used 'tire'. The wheel version came from 'tire' in the sense of 'equipent, dress' and is related to 'attire'. If this seems odd, you simply need to realise the old wooden wheels on the horse-drawn waggons, the metal hoop literally 'tied' the wheel together (as well as protecting it) and was therefore a tie-r.

Trip originally means 'to stumble', and was derived from the early English use meaning 'to tread, trample'. As a journey it is not recorded until 1959, but was certainly used prior to this and also certainly came from the other use. That 'trip' meaning 'journey' is a comparatively recent use is proof the claimed oldest pub name in England, Nottingham's the Trip to Jerusalem, has no basis in fact.

Trunk as in the chest or large box, comes from Old French tronc, the alms box in a church. The elephant's trunk takes its name from the trunk of a tree, itself originating ina word meaning 'to pass through'.

Wave, be it with the hand or a refence to the movement of water, come from Proto-Indo-European uebh 'to move to and fro'. Fascinatingly this has the same origin as 'weave'.

Watch - to keep an eye on - has its roots in religious devotion, when followers would have attempted to stay awake and alert for long periods. This then makes sense of the Proto-Indo-European root of weg 'to be strong'. It was this sense of 'a clock to wake up sleepers' which gave the name to the timepiece.

Well - a source of water and good health. The water source comes from Proto-Indo-European wel 'to turn, revolve' and thus refers to the bubbling of a spring, the source of well water. As in 'hale and hearty', the root is Latin velle 'to wish or will'.

Wind as in 'moving air' has not changed since Proto-Indo-European we 'to blow'. When it comes to the sense of 'to turn, twist', there is the synonym 'wend' and that is the root, wendh 'to twist, entwine'.

Wound is either the the past tense of 'wind' or used to mean 'harm, injure'. In the sense of injury the Old English wund comes from the Proto-Indo-European wen itself meaning 'to bear, wound', while the past tense of 'wind' we saw in the previous entry.

Yard as an imperial measurement comes from the Old English gerd, originally not a measurement of three feet but a straight wooden pole created by pollarding trees. Doing so made the poles grow straight at first, these could be used for building. These were approximately three feet or one yard in length, but it was the Old English word for 'pole' which gave it a name. Old English also gave us the term for that enclosed area at the back of the house, geard used to mean 'enclosure, garden, court, residence'. Although the two words are similar, the pronunciation is the same.

Sunday 11 October 2020

Etymologies of Yet More 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 Q before, now continue with a selection of others:

Right meaning both 'correct' and the opposite of left. The former can be traced through a Germanic line meaning 'fair, proper' back to Proto-Indo-European reg 'to move in a straight line', to rule', to lead straight', to correct' - it is clear why the modern sense is 'correct', and that is also the reason the righthand is so named, for it is considered the correct hand. Compare 'left', in the Latin group of languages clearly show this as considered sinister, for lefthanded is exactly what 'sinister' means.

Rock can be stone or to move backward and forward. As a stone 'rock' has hardly changed since pre-Roman times, although as the trail ends here it was probably very different prior to this. The sense of 'oscillate' is derived from a Germanic root, where such as Swedish rycka and Middle Dutch rucken refer to the back and forth motion used when plucking (such as feathers from a bird to prepare it for the pot).

Rose is a flower which is named, not for its perfume or its bloom but, for its thorns. As the past tense of 'rise' it is a very modern creation, for most of the existence of English the word would have been risen.

Row as in rhyming with 'know', could mean to be arranged in straight lines or to propel a boat. As a line it can be traced to a Proto-Indo-European reiwhich meant 'to scratch, tear, cut' and shows the first lines described were designs or creations. To propel with oars is from the Proto-Indo-European root ere which may look very different but is not pronounced very differently and means exactly the same, showing the concept of rowing has hardly changed in millennia.

Saw is the past tense of 'see' and a cutting tool. The latter is ultimately from Proto-Indo-European sek 'to cut', while the visual reference is simply the Old Norse sja meaning 'see'.

Seal a method of closing a document, for example, shares an origin with 'sign' and 'insignia' in Proto-Indo-European sek, the same word which gave us the saw as a cutting tool. Of course a seal is also a mammal, a pinniped, with the word common to all Germanic tongues, but the trail ends there and the origins uncertain.

Set a complete complete collection or to solidify. The collection sense shares an origin with 'sect' in referring to a group. In meaning 'to solidify' or 'harden', its use is unknown before the 16th century although it we do know it comes from the sense 'to sit' which was also said as 'to set'. Hence the sense is really 'to put in place' and 'harden' began as 'to sit'.

Sink, as a verb, can be traced back to the Proto-Indo-European language where sengw meant exactly the same thing. It is easy to see why the kitchen sink got its name from the verb, but as a noun it began referring to a 'cesspit or sewage system' - hence it wasn't where the waste water came from but where it went to. The kitchen sink, or what passed as a sink at the time, is first recorded in 1560.

Spring, either a season, a water source, or a coil of wire. Yet there is a fourth sense, and that is the source of the other three. To spring or pounce is to leap up, burst forth, or fly out. As a coil of wire the sense is clear, as is the water source where the water springs forth from the ground, for the season the sense is much the same but it is the plants which spring forth early in the year.

Stalk is either part of a plant or to pursue a quarry furtively. As part of the plant it shares an origin with 'stale', a straight part of a ladder, handle of a broom, etc.. The Proto-Indo-European root is stel 'to put straight, in order' and something we will encounter again in the next entry. In the sense of 'to pursue', the root is rather different in coming from Proto-Indo-European stel meaning 'to rob, steal' and very much still seen as such, even if stalking today may well be to take the quarry's life.

Stall, a small building for animals or for trade, or to delay. As a stable or market stall it comes, as mentioned above, from Proto-Indo-European stel 'to put in order'. The sense 'delay' is rather different and only used in English for two hundred years. Prior to that it was used to refer to a staller, a thief's assistant who distracted the quarry.

Sunday 4 October 2020

Etymology - More 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 N before, now continue with a selection of others:

Object can be found as a noun and as a verb. The noun, describing a physical item, came to English from Old French object, from Latin obiectus meaning 'lying before, or opposite', and ultimately from Proto-Indo-European ob ye or 'to throw against'. These earlier forms are also the origin of the verb, the root suggesting the idea or proposal is thrown back as it proves unacceptable.

Order can be a command or arranged by some pre-agreed pattern. The command is first recorded in the 13th century and comes from the other sense, from Old French ordre 'position', Latin ordinem '

Park is another word with two uses, as a verb and as a noun. The noun, first used in Britain to describe an area of land enclosed for hunting purposes, it came to Britian from Old French. Ultimately this comes from a Germanic root, parruck meaning 'enclosed tract of land', a word which has also given us 'paddock', and while the earlier roots are uncertain, there is enough evidence to show they all refer to enclosed land. The verb originally borrowed the noun to describe how military vehiles were arranged in an enclosed area, quite literally 'parked'.

Pile has two uses, both nouns. Most often we think of the heap, a rough accumulation of something. This came to English from Middle French pile and Latin pila a reference to a 'stone barrier'. The other sense, of a heavy pointed beam, comes from Old English pil and Latin pilum, where the former referred to 'a stake' and the latter a heavy javelin used by Roman soldiers.

Pitcher is either a large jug or one who pitches. The latter originated as 'to thrust in, fasten, settle', thus the original pitchers were those who drove in pegs. The jug came from Old French pichier, that from Latin bicarium, and ultimately from Greek bikos meaning 'earthen vessel' and which is also the origin of 'beaker'.

Pole, another stake, can be traced back through words of identical meaning in Old English, Old Frisian, Old Norse, Latin and ultimately from Proto-Indo-European pakslo, also the root of the word 'peg' meaning 'to fasten'. Poles, as in the people, and who gave their name to their country of Poland, take their name from the Old Church Slavonic polje and known as 'the field dwellers'.

Pound has four possible uses:currency, weight, an enclosure, and to hit repeatedly. Both measurments take their name from the Latin, and ultimately from the Proto-Indo-European root pen usd to mean 'draw, stretch, spin'. The enclosure shares an origin with 'pond' in Old English pyndan 'to dam up, enclose'. To 'hit repeatedly' comes from Old English punian, used to mean 'crush, pulverise' as well as 'bruise'.

Punch is one of my favourite etymologies, and not because of the alcohol link and not for the physical sense either. It will come as a surprise to most to learn the drink gave a name to the fist form. Punch originated in India, brought to Britain during the days of the Empire, traditionally it includes five ingredients (no more or less). It is the five ingredients which gave the drink its name, it comes from the Hindi word for 'five'. The blow is taken from the drink, brought across with the expression a 'bunch of fives' and quickly adopting the word 'punch' for the action.

Pupil used in the sense of a child or scholar, originated in the 14th century from Old French pupille meaning 'orphan, child, ward, minor'. That part of the eyeshares the origin but from the earlier Latin pupilla 'little doll'. Looking into the eyes of another and you can see a small version of yourself, like a little doll, reflected back at you.

Quarry as in prey comes from Anglo-French quirreie, itself from Old French quirre which referred to the entrails of the animal caught and killed given over to the dogs who had taken part in the hunt. That where rocks or stone is excavated comes from the Latin quarreria 'place where stones are squared', it comes from quadrare 'to make square'.

Quarrel a row and the bolt used in a crossbow. The argument sense is not seen before the late 16th century, when it first came to England from Old French querele it was used in the sense of 'complaint, concern, business, dispute, controversy'. The crossbow bolt shares a similar origin, for the root is the Old French carre or 'square'.