Sunday, 29 May 2022

Synonym Etymologies J

Continuing the look at synonyms through the eyes of the etymologist, this time it is the letter J and jump. The etymology of 'jump' is difficult to see, although it seems most often to be said to be related to a Gallo-Roman dialect word jumba 'to rock' or yumpa with the same meaning. This is largely based on the assumption the word was brought back to England following the Hundred Years War. Swedish gumpa 'to spring' and German gampen 'to hop' have been shown to be unrelated. Interesting to note that 'jump' as a euphemism for sexual intercourse dates from as early as 1630.

Leap is a very Germanic word and can be traced, and through nearly all Germanic languages, to the Proto-Germanic hlaupan. It is easy to see how other Germanic tongues have used this root to refer to 'running', Dutch lopen, Old Norse hlaupa, Old Frisian hlapa, Old Saxon hlopan being just a few examples. This is clearly the origin of the English word 'lope', a running gait with long strides. Note that 'leap' has been connected to 'bound' since at least 1720 and a fact which leads nicely on to the next word.

Bound came to English from Old French bondir, which was originally used to mean 'rebound' but more in the sense of 'echo' or even simply making a noise like the blare of a trumpet. Note that 'bomb' is from a similar root.

Hop is another of Germanic roots, words in Old Norse, Dutch, German, and Old English all ultimately from Proto-Germanic hupnojan with the same meaning. Note we were never 'hopping mad' before 1838, and research also revealed a stew of bacon, rice and peas known as Hopping-John from 1838.

Spring is also from a Proto-Germanic root, where sprengan has the same meaning. In fact all Germanic languages use 'spring' to refer to leaping upwards, and is the reason why the early growing season is known by the same word.

Bounce has been used in the modern sense since 1510, but also existed prior to that to mean 'thump, hit', which is almost what a ball does when it bounces.

Prance originated as a word describing horses in high mettle, and only used to refer to a strutting or bouncing gait from the late 18th century.

Sunday, 22 May 2022

Synonym Etymologies I

Continuing the look at synonyms through the eyes of the etymologist, this time it is the letter I and ill. Interestingly the word 'ill', while not considered to be related to 'evil', was used in Middle English to mean 'offensive, objectionable, malevolent, unfortunate, hurtful'. It seems to have come from Old Norse, where illr meant 'evil, bad' and even 'mean, stingy'. Not until the late 14th century do we see it used to mean 'unwell'.

Unwell is clearly a negative form of 'well', itself a Germanic word which has mostly been used to mean 'abundantly, very much', and only used in the health sense from around 1550. The word is derived from Proto-Indo-European wel meaning 'to wish'.

Sick is from Proto-Germanic seuka meaning the same as it does today. It has only been used in the sense of nausea since 1610.

Ail has more often been used to mean 'loathsome, troublesome' and can be traced back to Proto-Indo-European agh-lo 'to be depressed, afraid'.

Poorly has only been used in the sense of ill health since the middle of the 18th century. I clearly is derived from 'poor', and thus from Proto-Indo-European pau 'few, little'.

Infirm comes from the Latin infirmus or 'weak, frail, feeble' and, in turn, from Proto-Indo-European dher 'to hold firmly, support'.

Sunday, 15 May 2022

Synonym Etymologies H

Continuing the look at synonyms through the eyes of the etymologist, this time it is the letter H and hot. As ever a simple mono-syllabic word is very old and often difficult to trace very far. We do know it is Germanic and has never changed its meaning in all that time. It does seem to have been used to refer to objects which have are overly warm, rather than air temperature or any comment on the weather. Perhaps of greater interest is the Middle English pronunciation with a long vowel, thus rhyming with such as 'boat' or 'wrote'.

Warm began as the adjective, another of Germanic origins, and also one where the early roots are unclear as use of the word has never changes.

Balmy is from 'balm' and did originally refer to something 'soothing, relaxing'. The term has the same root as the balsam tree, both referring to the therapeutic properties.

Boiling, from 'boil', is derived from the Proto-Indo-European roos beu 'to swell'. The reference to heat needs no explanation.

Searing is from 'sear', and originally began meaning 'dry'. Again the heat reference is self-explanatory.

Roasting, from 'roast', refers to meat cooked on a grill or grate, and not used as a term for food cooked in an oven (which should be 'bake') until around the start of the 14th century. As with other simplistic words, the meaning has never changed.

Scorching is from 'scorch', itself used in many early Germanic languages to mean 'shrink, dry up'. Note there is also an Old English word scorchen meaning 'strip the skin from', which has the same origins.

Spicy today is used to refer to something a little piquant, and yet the root is in Latin where it was used in the sense of 'kind, sort' and is related to the word 'species'.

Piquant is clearly of French derivation, and is from the Old French piquer 'to prick, sting, nettle', and has the same root as 'pike' (as in the weapon).

Strong only became used in the flavour sense in recent times, earlier 'strong' was used in the sense of 'severe, firm, bold, resolute' and is derived from Proto-Indo-European strenk meaning 'tigh, narrow'.

Pungent has the same origins as 'piquant' above, although it came across to English much earlier.

Aromatic, from 'aroma', is from the Latin aroma meaning 'sweet odour' and/or the Greek aroma meaning 'spice, herb'.

Ardent is the first of the hot synonyms where it describes someone as 'attractive'. It was once used to describe the effect of alcoholic spirits, and is derived from Proto-Indo-European as 'to burn, glow'.

Sexy is clearly from 'sex' which, in the gender sense, is only seen from 1520s. Earlier, 'sex' was used to mean 'to sever', thus the division between male and female genders was recognised by the Romans with the Latin sexus and sectio.

Desirable, from 'desire', comes from the Old French verb desirrer, itself from the Latin desiderare which meant 'long for, wish' as the modern 'desire' but could also seen as the phrase de sidere 'from the stars' and thus 'awaiting what the stars will bring'.

Sultry comes from an obsolete verb sulter which meant the same as 'swelter', the use of which is clear.

Alluring, from 'allure', began in English from the Old French alurer. This was not only used to mean 'attract, captivate' but also 'to train' when used in the context of hunting with falcons. If this sounds rather odd, then compare the lure used to train falcons.

Seductive is from 'seduce' which came to English from Latin seducere 'to lead astray' and ultimately from the Proto-Indo-European deuk 'to lead'.

Dishy, unknown until 1961, clearly describes someone as resembling a dish, but just why anyone would wish to be compared to a plate (for that is what a tisc was) is a complete mystery to me.

Current is the first of the synonyms meaning 'in vogue' or perhaps 'popular'. It is not used in the sense in English until the middle of the 15th century, it comes from Old French corant meaning 'lively, running, eager' and it is this positive sense which has endured.

Contemporary is one of those oddities which I never saw as representing Latin con 'together' and a form of 'temporal' until I began studying it. The modern sense is only two centuries old, and until around the same time, the word was 'cotemporary' and meant 'together in time'.

Recent is ultimately from Proto-Indo-European ken meaning 'fresh, new, young'. Note the present meaning is only known since the 1620s, while for much of the following four centuries you were as likely to see 'recency' as 'recent'.

The word we began with, 'hot', reminded me of something I heard whilst waiting in the queue at the bank - that I was queuing in the bank dates it. The bank clerk/teller asked the customer, who was bringing back unused foreign currency, how did she find her time abroad. "Oh yer know", replies the customer. "'O'!" One word, one syllable. three letters, and she managed to get rid of two letters. This meant employing both an unaspiration and a glottal stop in a three-letter word. I still wince when I think of it.

Sunday, 8 May 2022

Synonym Etymologies G

Continuing the look at synonyms through the eyes of the etymologist, this time it is the letter G and gas. This I found a little more difficult as there are dozens of synonyms for 'gas' but this is because 'gas' has so many uses - but, as ever, I will give it a try. In the most basic sense it is a state of matter (along with solid and liquid). It is first used in English around the middle of the 17th century and taken from the Dutch. This, in turn, came from the Greek khaos which did not mean 'chaos' but 'empty space'.

Excellent or exciting (it's a gas) was first used in 1953, derived from the earlier hipster term 'gasser' and with the same meaning. But there is a rather earlier use of the term, albeit in the phrase 'everything is gas and goiters' by none other than Charles Dickens in 1839. Note, as I've said so many times, just because a word first appears in print with a certain meaning on a certain date, it does not mean it is the first use of same - indeed, it is safe to assume the vast majority of apparently 'new' words were already in use before they appeared in print, otherwise the reader would likely not have a clue what the writer was talking about. And, let's face it, that would be quite diabelisimilitudinal.

The American use of 'gas' as a shortened form of 'gasoline', first used in the USA in 1864 and itself first used as 'gasolene' in Britain the year earlier. It may come as a surprise to learn it began as a trade name, the fuel burning as a vapour, with the addition of -ol- to denote 'oil' and -ine as a chemical suffix.

Petrol, as the British would know it, is a shortened form of 'petroleum' which, once again, uses 'the -ol- or 'oil' with a perceived chemical suffix -eum. The first element shows it was extracted from rock, for it uses the Latin petra 'rock'.

Vapour, having already mentioned the word and it also once being used in the sense of 'gasses', comes from Old French where it was used to mean 'moisture' as much as 'vapour'. Note the idea of 'the vapours', used from the middle of the 17th century and a reference to anything from fainting to hysteria to fitting, was the then idea it came from exhalations from internal organs of the torso which would be affecting the brain.

Air and, having got away from the gasseous meaning, come back to the original sense. It came to English from Old French air and Latin aer, both with the same meaning, and Greek aer which more often spoke of 'mist, haze, clouds' and later 'atmosphere'. It seems the word originated in Proto-Indo-European aeirein which was used to mean 'raise' and also 'windpipe' and a third meaning of 'artery'. Indeed, this last meaning has also given us the name of the body's major artery the 'aorta'.

Atmosphere seems to be the next logical step, an obviously Greek origin where atmos spoke of 'steam, vapour' and sphaira or 'sphere' combine to describe what the Greeks saw as the contaminated part of the lower part of the air as opposed to the pure and untainted upper air where the gods resided.

Talk is another sense for 'gas', albeit in a negative and slang sense meaning 'empty talk'. It is first seen in print in 1847 and is likely the reason it became used to mean 'joke, funny' as it was by James Joyce in 1917.

Babble is, like many words which describe language difficult to comprehend, imitative of whatever they reference - in this case it is baby talk. Other words which similarly ridicule the speaker are: 'gobbledegook' or imitative of a turkey; 'cuckoo' another suggesting a person is bird-brained; 'jargon' is derived from a phrase meaning 'to twitter like birds'; 'barbarous' tells us they are 'non-Greek speakers' (how atrocious); and 'bafflegab', probably the best of the lot and one which should be brought back into general use.

Wind, which comes from the Proto-Indo-European root we 'to blow', is listed here as it is also used as a slighter more polite term for 'gas' as used to refer to air trapped and/or released by the body. Most often, at least in Britain, it describes air trapped in the upper digestive tract - dyspepsia is another term - and thus rather badly named as the discomfort caused in down to trapped air and thus not moving (or windy) in the usual sense. Research revealed the word 'wind' had been used to rhyme with 'hind, rind, behind' until as recently as the 18th century. Even I, who is known for not appreciating poetry, sympathise with poets (the real poets, the rhyming ones) as it severely limits potential rhymes.

Heartburn and, having mentioned dyspepsia/indigestion, clearly confuses the associated pain/discomfort with a cardiac problem. Yet that has only been the case since the 15th century, prior to that the term was used to describe 'anger' or 'bitterness' (1400) and to refer to 'lust' (13th century).

Fart, and if I omit this four-letter offering I'll only be deluged by emails again (thankfully not from Mrs Trellis), has gone almost unchanged since language has been recorded and has never meant anything else. Interestingly, if farting could ever be classified as interesting, until at least the Middle Ages there was also the term 'clatterer' which described one known for their 'clatterfarts', which is an onomatopaeic word refers specifically to audible farts, tending to suggest that other farts around this time were silent farts.

Saturday, 7 May 2022

Synonym Etymologies F

Continuing the look at synonyms through the eyes of the etymologist, this time it is the letter F and fat. The word is a contraction, a shortened form of Old English faettian 'to stuff, cram with', itself from the Proto-Germanic verb faitjan 'to fatten'. Taking it back further we come to Proto-Indo-European poid 'to abound in water, milk, fat, etc.', and thus the earliest references to 'fat' were far from derogatory.

Stout, used in the sense of 'overweight', is unrecorded prior to 1804. It first came to England around 1300 when it was used to mean 'proud, valiant, strong' and is derived from Old French estout, earlier Middle Low German stolt 'stately proud', and back further to Proto-Indo-European stel 'to put, stand'. We still use the phrase 'he is a stout fellow', and this continues to use the original meaning of the word in English.

Plump is not seen in this sense until 1540, prior to that the word referred to someone who was 'blunt, dull' when it came to the individual's manners.

Chubby, daft as it may seem, describes someone as 'resembling a chub'. This freshwater fish is, compared to others in our rivers, rather rotund. While the origin of 'chub' is unclear, there is some thought that it comes from Old Norse kumba 'log' or kumben 'stumpy'.

Portly is not a 'fat' synonym until the end of the 16th century, prior to that it described someone with a 'port' appearance, ie of 'stately, dignified, or noble appearance and carriage'. While 'port' has fallen out of favour in English, both 'portly' and 'deportment' are still in use, albeit the former with a very different meaning.

Flabby is a variation of 'flappy', recorded in 1590 as referring to soft flesh and clearly derived from 'flap', where the etymology is unknown.

Dumpy has an unclear etymology, but must be related to 'dumpling' in coming from the noun 'dump'. It has only been used in this context since 1750.

Chunky is also unrecorded until the middle of the eighteenth century. Clearly derived from 'chunk', itself from 'chuck' as in a cut of meat which, in turn, comes from 'chock' which is still used to refer to a 'block' (used as a brake for aircraft, for example), and that comes from Gaulish tsukka 'a tree stump'.