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.

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