Sunday, 24 April 2022

Synonym Etymologies E

Continuing the look at synonyms through the eyes of the etymologist, this time it is the letter E and edge. We will look at the noun twice, first as in 'rim' and then as in 'advantage'.

Edge as in 'rim' comes to English through the Germanic route and ultimately from the Proto-Indo-European ak 'be sharp' or perhaps 'point'. Note that Germanic trail also sees forms such as the Old Frisian egg, Old Saxon eggia, and Old Norse egg. Remember these early forms when we look at the other use of 'edge' below.

Rim is derived from Old Norse rimi where it was used to refer to 'a raised strip of land or ridge'. That it came to be used in this sense is down to it being used in the Old English saerima or 'seashore'.

Border has only been used in this sense since the early fifteenth century, it came to English with Old French bordeure 'seam, edge of a shield'.

Boundary puts the suffix '-ary' on the word which should be seen as meaning 'limit'.

Fringe also came to English from French, there frenge was used to refer to 'thread, strand' as much as 'edge'.

Margin was first used in English to refer to the edge of a body of water (and still is today). It came from Old French margin and ultimately from Proto-Indo-European merg 'border'.

Lip has only been used in this sense for the last two centuries at most. Clearly from the body part it has hardly changed in millennia and has never had any other meaning, thus the etymology is difficult to see.

Brim, as with margin, started as a reference to where land met water, this time more often used to refer to the riverbank. It is derived from Proto-Indo-European bhrem 'point, spike, edge', where it is easy to see why it came to be used when referring to hats.

Brink has near identical historical usage and meanings, with the exception of Proto-Indo-European bhreng meaning 'to protect' as well as 'edge'.

Verge comes from the Old French verge meaning 'twig, branch' and also 'measuring rod' and 'rod of office' and also 'penis'.

Perimeter is a compound of peri- 'around, about' and -meter from metron 'measure'.

Circumference is another compound word, from circum- 'around' and ferre 'to carry' and also 'to bear children'.

Periphery is first seen in the fourteenth century, where periferie means 'atmosphere around the earth'. It is a compound of peri- (as in perimeter) and the same suffix found in cirumference.

Edge again, this time as in 'advantage'. is from the verb 'to egg on'. Now, if you've ever wondered why we 'egg' someone on, it's because 'egg' is the correct early form and only from the early 17th century did the word become 'edge'. There was no confusion between the two as these would be used in quite different contexts. Thus to 'egg' someone on is the same as edging forward or advancing slowly. (I won't bother with the etymology of 'egg' as in chicken here, or we'll be here all day.)

Advantage is another first sen in the fourteenth century, and comes from the Latin abante 'from before' and Proto-Indo-European ant 'front, forehead'.

Lead is a Germanic word, all forms suggesting 'to travel' and all can be traced back to Proto-Indo-European leit 'to go forth'.

Superiority is from 'superior' and from 'super', 'above, upper' and from Proto-Indo-European uper 'over'.

Dominance is a derivative of dominant, coming to English from Old French dominant, from Latin dominari 'to rule', and ultimately from Proto-Indo-European dem 'home, household'.

Supremacy is derived from supreme, from Latin supremus 'highest' and from that same Proto-Indo-European root uper seen in 'superior'. (Well who else did you think I was going to suggest fitted this description?)

Sunday, 17 April 2022

Synonym Etymologies D

Continuing the look at synonyms through the eyes of the etymologist, this time it is the letter D and dull, as in 'dreary'.

Dull, as used in reference to colour or brightness, is unknown prior to the end of the 14th century. This comes from its use in referring to a tool or weapon being blunt - and that also the reason 'dull' has been used to mean 'slow in understanding' - and can be traced back to Proto-Indo-European dhul from the root dheu 'dust, vapour, smoke'.

Dreary is first used in Old English dreorig and meaning 'cruel, bloody, blood-stained', and came to English through the Germanic line with similar meanings. Ultimately this can be traced to Proto-Indo-European dhreu meaning, depending on the context. 'to fall, flow, drip, droop'. Hence the original 'dripping with blood' has changed to become 'dismal, gloomy' - and one would think blood loss to that extent would hardly make anyone pleased.

Dismal also began with a rather different meaning, for in the early 15th century the sense was 'unlucky, inauspicious'. This came to English from Old French and Medieval Latin, the latter dies mali 'evil or unlucky days', and tracing back further from Proto-Indo-European dyeu 'to shine' and mel 'bad, wrong'.

Drab had been used in the 16th century as a term for a 'dirty or untidy woman' (and worse), but this is connected to an Old French word drap. Here the meaning is 'yellowish-grey' or other similarly lifeless colour by the 18th century and earlier still simply described the thick woollen cloth of unremarkable colour.

Banal, as in 'hackneyed' or 'lacking distinction', has the same origin as 'ban' and is not difficult to see. The Germanic root of both words saw Old Norse banna 'to curse, prohibit', German bannen 'expel, banish', and back to Proto-Indo-European bha 'to speak'. The same cluster of words has also given us 'bandit' and 'contraband'.

Tedious came to English from Old French tedieus and Late Latin taediosus with the same meaning. While of uncertain etymology, it seems likely to be related to words such as Old Church Slavonic tezo and Lithuanian tingiu which both mean 'dull'.

Boring is another where the etymology is uncertain, but probably came to English from French and likely used in the sense of 'boring a hole' where progress might be made but a very slow and laborious pace.

Lifeless is the opposite of life, and the only word we need to examine. All Germanic roots refer to 'body, person' and the like, which earlier forms use as 'continuance, perseverance', this showing the links to earlier still Proto-Indo-European leip 'to stick, adhere'. Hence the longtime sense of 'life' is actually 'not to die'.

Insipid came to English from the French around the early 17th century, and is derived from Latin sapere to 'have a taste' and used more to refer to flavours as it is related to sapidus 'tasty' and also to the modern word 'sapient'.

Wearisome is clearly from 'weary' and both words from the Germanic group which have never had any other meaning than 'to exhaust, make tired'.

Bland is from the Latin blandus 'smooth-talking, flattering, alluring', and thus has virtually changed to the opposite meaning. Tracing this back further takes us to Proto-Indo-European mel 'soft' which, it could be argued, could be lead to the word in both the positive and negative sense of 'bland'.

Flat is not used in the 'dull, tedious, boring' sense until around 1870, when it went even further to mean 'total failure'.

Sunday, 10 April 2022

Synonym Etymologies C

Continuing the look at synonyms through the eyes of the etymologist, this time it is the letter C for Cry as in weep.

Cry was originally used to mean 'to utter loudly' and the use of 'cry' as in 'weep' is derived from that. Hence the etymology is the same, but aside from the Spanish cridar, Portuguese gritar and Latin quiritare, all have the same meaning of 'wail, shriek', the source is unknown. What is known, and quite astonishing, is to find that nobody 'cried' before 1852, other synonyms were used, some of which follow.

Weep is a Germanic word and has always meant the same as it does today, it is derived from Proto-Indo-European wab with exactly the same meaning.

Tear can be traced back to the Proto-Indo-European dakru, which was not only used to refer to teardrops, but any liquid drops.

Howl, again, likens tears to crying out loud, and has exactly the same origin as 'owl', both of which are imitative of the whatever they are describing - effectively the phonetic spelling of the sound has become the word.

Bawl comes from the Old Norse baula meaning 'to low like a cow'. A reasonable description I would think.

Snivel is from the Old English snyflan and describes 'the running of the nose', this also linked to tears.

Whimper is another Germanic word of imitative origins.

Sob, held to be crying with short breaths, is first used in Old English to mean 'lament', and is derived from a Germanic root meaning 'to suck'.

Wail is derived from the same source as 'woe' and from Old Norse vaela 'lament'.

Skrike is a word I have only ever heard two people use - my mother and my grandmother. I assumed it was another of my grandmother's odd Black Country expressions - she inspired both my Old Wives Tales and Odd Words and Sayings both of which feature her image on the cover - and yet I find it is known as a regional expression which are usually used to refer to the cry of the crow, thus another imitative word.

Sunday, 3 April 2022

Synonym Etymologies B

As with the last post, a look at a number of synonyms through the eyes of the etymologist. This time B for Bag, which is from the Old Norse baggi 'pack, bundle'. Some sources give the origin as Old French bague, which could explain its longevitry in having been introduced to English twice, but as this would also have come from the Old Norse, too, it is hardly relevant.

Sack is known as such because of the material it is made from. Usually known as 'sacking' in English, many European languages have borrowed the early Greek sakkos 'bag made of goat hair', itself related to Hebrew and Phoenician saq 'cloth of hair'.

Carrier is clearly from the verb 'to carry'. Coming to English from old French, it can be traced to Latin carricare and derived from Latin carrum, their name for the 'Celtic two-wheeled war chariot'. We can even trace this further back to that source of many languages, the root language which spread across India, Middle East, and Europe with the retreating of the ice sheets, the Proto-Indo-European root kers meaning 'to run' - this is also the origin of the word 'horse'.

Receptacle, from Old French in the 14th century, has the same origin as its parent word 'receive', which is traceable back through Latin to Proto-Indo-European kap 'grasp'.

Container, clearly from 'contain', is another which came to English from Old French and further back Latin. The Latin coninere was used in the sense of 'to hold together, enclose', and comes from Proto-Indo-European ten 'to stretch'. Not until the 14th century did the idea of 'hold together' become seen as also conveying the sense of 'containing'.

Bag again, this time as a verb, not the noun as above. In the sense of killing or capturing prey (or even criminals), its use is unrecorded until 1818. Clearly this refers to the game, a bird or rabbit, to be placed in the bag. Now, that the bag would swell is more the reason for the use of 'bag' here, rather than the bag itself. We know this as the word 'bag' had been used to refer to loose fitting clothing and, usually to animals, particularly livestock, to the swelling of a belly when pregnant and had been since the late 14th century.

Catch has exactly the same origins as 'receptacle' and 'receive', traceable to Proto-Indo-European kap 'to grasp'. The difference is largely how the word came through the later Latin and Old French routes.

Capture is also from Proto-Indo-European kap, and much easier to see.

Snare, as a verb, comes from the noun, This noose for trapping animals is from the Old Norse soenri or 'twisted rope'. Neither verb nor noun used in English until around 1300.

Kill, be it a noun or a verb, must surely be an old word, and indeed it does go back to Proto-Indo-European through the Germanic route to English. Working back in history, usage has meant not only 'kill, put to death', but also 'die', 'torment', 'tease', 'suffer pain', and ultimately Proto-Indo-European gwele 'to throw' and also used in the extended sense of 'to pierce'.

Shoot can be traced back through the German line and originaly used in the sense 'to push, shove, impel', which is effectively what the bow does to the arrow and the gun to the bullet.

Sag used to refer to body parts and/or clothes in the mid-16th century, it is from an Old Norse root sokkva 'to sink'.

Swell has been used to mean 'to grow bigger' for so long and virtually unchanged and in so many Germanic tongues it is impossible to know where the word originated.

Balloon, as a verb, comes from the noun, itself a derivative of 'ball' and the Latin palla. The idea of the balloon and the ball in these old tongues, come from the original Proto-Indo-European bhel which meant 'to swell, and thus the word has returned to its original use after several thousand years.

Bulge is not difficult to see as related to 'balloon' and it does also go back to the Proto-Indo-European bhel.

Synonym Etymologies A

Reading a very boring and tedious book - the author won't mind me saying so as he's been dead for well over a hundred years - I read a list of words with identical meaning. (The author clearly did it to annoy me and not to emphasise his point.) So transfixed was I by his 676-page drone, my mind wandered and I found myself thinking about the etymologies of each of these words and whether they had anything in common. I suspected, from the various forms, that many would have had very different usages and meanings in the past - such discussed in earlier blog posts for some twenty posts up to the 16th January 2022.

I decided I would take this, as with the earlier posts, in alphabetical order and thus begin with a word which would never describe me when reading the book, for A for Alert, which we take first as a verb. It came to English from the French in the early 17th century, where a l'erte translates as 'on the watch'. Here the last element is related to the Latin erta 'a high tower'.

Vigilant is another from French, coming to English in the late 15th century, itself directly from Latin vigilantem. Both have idential meanings but can be traced back further to Proto-Indo-European weg 'strong, lively'.

Awake is first seen in the earlier Middle English form awaecnan 'to arise, originate'. Trace this back through the Germanic line and we come to the same root, that of Proto-Indo-European weg 'strong, lively'. Note the original use as 'awaken' meant specifically 'to rouse from sleep', and only later changed usage.

Aware is another through the Germanic line, where early forms saw Old High German ga-waraz 'be wary'. Again a Proto-Indo-European rouut, this time wer 'perceive, watch for'.

Watchful is seen from around 1500, with two elements which we will look at seperately. The suffix 'ful' is clearly intended to describe the amount of the other element, and always intended to show there was plenty of whatever that was. Of more interest is the Old English and Middle English words using this element, where it would inevitably come before the other element as a prefix, not a suffix. 'Watch' has the same origins as 'wake', ultimately from to Proto-Indo-European weg 'strong, lively'.

Attentive is another Old French derivation, where atentif meaning 'expectant, hopeful'. This came from the Latin attendere meaning 'give heed to' and has also given us 'attend'. Sadly the trail has not been traced further back in history.

Observant is seen in English since around 1600, unchanged from its French version but with a slightly different meaning. In French observant makes much more sense in meaning 'paying due attention to what is required'.

Wary we have already seen above in looking at 'aware'. Different word but same etymology and history.

Canny is Scotland and northern England dialect derived from 'cunning', this from Old English cunnan and ultimately the Proto-Indo-European root gno or 'to know'. To return to 'canny' for a moment, in Scotland three centuries ago the usage would be more 'lucky, prudent, skillful'. Even more unusual was 'uncanny', which rather than meaning the opposite, was used to mean 'dangerous'. Isn't language wonderful?

Heedful is another with two elements and, as we have already looked at the suffix under 'watchful', we will look at 'heed'. It has a Germanic origin, where we find hodian, hoda, hoeden, huotan, huten and others in several Germanic tongues, all of which can be traced to Proto-Indo-European kadh meaning 'shelter'. Indeed, all these Germanic words can also be seen in the etymology of 'hat'. While 'shelter' to 'hat' makes perfect sense, 'shelter' to 'observe, attend' takes a lot more thought.

Circumspect has two elements, the prefix is readily seen as meaning 'look around', while the rest is from Proto-Indo-European spek 'to observe'.

Care is next - note, previously the words have been verbs and/or adjectives, but from hereafter nouns - and another word of Germanic origins. Old English cearian 'be anxious' gives a clue to earlier meanings, for the original Proto-Indo-European gar or 'cry out, call, scream' is closer related to 'compain, lament' than the 'take heed' sense today. Interesting to note the word 'garrulous', a seemingly complex word, is much closer to the original gar and with more or less the same 'verbose' meaning.

Caution or 'to warn' comes from the noun, itself derived from the same word in Old French, where it meant 'security'. Both the French and the Latin cautionem are derived from Proto-Indo-European keu 'observe, perceive'.

Wariness has the suffix seen in many historical Western European languages, and always the same meaning, following a word we have already seen twice above in 'aware' and 'wary.

Alertness features the same suffix, 'ness', with the word we came in with. Thus roughly half have the same origin, ostensibly always having the same meaning, while the remainder have wandered from the original sense but mostly understandably.