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.

Synonym Etymologies S

Continuing the look at synonyms through the eyes of the etymologist, this time it is the letter S and stop. All versions suggest a Germanic origin, but with nothing earlier than Vulgar Latin stuppare it seems this is probably an example of a Germanic load word from Latin. The Latin stuppare is used in the sense 'to plug, to stop up', which explains why the modern sense of 'halt' is not seen until the middle of the 15th century, and even then it referred to a bung in a hole.


Cease comes from the Old French cesser and Latin cessare>, each with the same meaning. These can be traced to the Proto-Indo-European root ked 'to go, yield'.

End, here as a verb, comes from the noun and itself from Proto-Germanic andiaz 'the opposite side'. It comes from Proto-Indo-European antjo 'end, boundary' and its root ant 'front, forehead'.


Done is the past participle of 'do', itself traceable through the Germanic line to Proto-Indo-European dhe 'to set, put, place'.

Over is from the Old English uffera, with the same meaning. It is derived ultimately from the Proto-Indo-European root uper 'over' in the sense of 'above'.

Conclude can be traced back to the Latin claudere 'to shut'.

Terminate is another or Latin derivation, here terminare describes 'the end of the boundary'.


Pause is easy to trace through Old French pausee, Latin pausa, and Greek pausis, all with the same meaning.

Finish has only been used in the sense of 'the end' since 1790, the earlier meaning of 'that which gives completion' (as in paint or polish) is still in use. Coming to English from Old French finiss and Latin finire are as far as this can be traced, although it may have a link to the word 'fix'.


Halt is related to 'hold' and traceable to the Proto-Indo-European root keld 'to strike, cut'.

Saturday, 6 August 2022

Synonym Etymologies R

Continuing the look at synonyms through the eyes of the etymologist, this time it is the letter R and round. It can be traced through Old French to Latin and rotundus 'like a wheel', which is where the trail ends. Also of interest is how the word came to English from the French roont and Anglo-French rounde as a surname.

Circular is clearly from 'circle', which is another from the Latin group of languages and where Latin circulus 'small ring, hoop'.

Bulbous is derived from bulb, itself from the French bulbe meaning 'onion'. This can be traced to the Greek bolbos 'plant with round swelling on an underground stem'.

Curved, from curve, can be traced to Latin curvus 'crooked, bent' and ultimately Proto-Indo-European sker 'to turn, bend'.

Elliptical is derived from ellipse, and the first of two words which are not strictly 'round' in the correct sense. Ellipse comes from the Old French ellipse and further back to Latin ellipsis which not only meant 'ellipse' but also 'a falling short, a deficit' and clearly as in the sense of 'not a circle'. These both come from the Greek elleipsis and first coined by Apollonius of Pergia in the 3rd century BCE, to describe the section of the acute-angled cone which is smaller at the base than the side.


Oval is another 'not round' words, comes from Latin ovalis or 'egg-shaped'. Note the term 'Oval Office' to refer to the Presidency of the USA is first seen in 1942.

Spherical is the first of two words which are three dimensional and thus not 'round' in the usual sense. Derived from 'sphere', the word comes from Old French espereand Latin sphaera 'globe, ball, celestial sphere'.

Cylindrical, from cylinder, came to English from Old French cylindre and Latin cylindrus 'roller, cylinder, roll'.


Around has been increasingly ignored in favour of round and, unsurprisingly, shares the same root.

Round is also used in a number of phrases: round the clock is first recorded in 1715; round the world appears in 1600; round the corner in 1743; nobody took a round trip until 1844; a round number (multiples of ten, hundred, thousand, etc) from 1640; to make the rounds as recently as 1967; and nobody bought a round of drinks until 1880 and interestingly it was banned from July 1916 until June 1919.

Sunday, 17 July 2022

Synonym Etymologies Q

Continuing the look at synonyms through the eyes of the etymologist, this time it is the letter Q and quiet. Coming to English from Old French quiete, itself from Latin quies, and Proto-Indo-European kweie and all with the same meaning as the modern word.

Silent is from the Latin silentem>, but both originally meant 'still, calm, quiet', and not used in the sense of 'without a sound' until around 1580.


Hush is first seen as Middle English huisht with the same meaning. Difficult to know just how this word developed, if it could indeed be considered a word in earliest times, for it seems to have developed as being the sound most easily produced with a minimum of effort. Interesting to note the original hush-puppy is found in 1899 and was a deep fried ball of cornmeal batter.


Mute is from Old French muet 'dumb, mute' and from Latin mutus with the same meaning and related to Greek myein 'to be shut' (as on the mouth).


Dumb is from Proto-Germanic dumbaz 'dumb, dull' and ultimately from Proto-Indo-European dheu 'dust, mist, vapour, smoke'. Note the final 'b' has probably been silent since the 13th century.

Low has been used in this sense since around 1300, it comes from the Proto-Indo-European root legh 'to lie down'.

Muffle in the sense of deadening sound is first recorded in 1761, probably because it referred to muffling the sound of oars using a similar material to that used in the Old French moufle 'thick glove, mitten'.

Faint is used in the sense of 'weak', and comes from the Proto-Indo-European dheigh 'to form, build'.

Confidential is from 'confidence', where the prefix com- precedes the Lain fidere 'to trust', itself from Proto-Indo-European bheidh 'to trust'.

Secret takes two Latin elements: se 'without, apart' and cernere 'to separate' - thus not to tell or impart.


Discreet is very similar to 'secret', with dis 'off, away' preceding cernere.

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.