Etymology is the study of word history. John Muir once said that 'when one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world'. Words are no exception, and this blog showcases the overlooked linguistic connections of people, events and concepts.

English, German, Russian, Greek, Hindi, Irish, and Latin are all direct descendants of a language spoken around 5,000 years ago. The group that spoke this language, which scholars call Proto-Indo-European, eventually broke into several groups as they moved around Europe, India and Asia. While drifting way from one another, the language they once shared split into a variety of different languages. Sometime before 500 BC, a group broke off speaking a language called 'Proto-Germanic'. English, German, Norwegian and a few others are descended directly form this subgroup, making them more closely related to each other than to Russian or Latin.

My name is Axton Crolley and I'm a graduate student at the University of Cambridge. If you need to get in touch with me, feel free to email me: crolleya@gmail.com
"gathering the good together?"
Is agreeability a good characteristic? Etymologically speaking, yes! The word good comes from early Proto-Germanic *godaz 'united, fit, suitable', from the Proto-Indo-European verb *ghedh 'to unite, be associated'. At its core, a good action can be understood as a ‘fitting’ response for the circumstances at hand. A good person is one who acts accordingly. Additionally, to gather means ‘to unite’ and also comes from *ghedh. When things are together, they have been gathered. 


Since everyone is awesome, I hope you all have a good day!
Photo found here

"gathering the good together?"

Is agreeability a good characteristic? Etymologically speaking, yes! The word good comes from early Proto-Germanic *godaz 'united, fit, suitable', from the Proto-Indo-European verb *ghedh 'to unite, be associated'. At its core, a good action can be understood as a ‘fitting’ response for the circumstances at hand. A good person is one who acts accordingly. Additionally, to gather means ‘to unite’ and also comes from *ghedh. When things are together, they have been gathered. 

Since everyone is awesome, I hope you all have a good day!

Photo found here

Thursday, January 30, 2014
I know that English is grammatically related to German but why does it have so many latin/greek based words?

That’s a great question!

Some of the earliest English words derived from Latin, like buttercampdevildishmile and wine, came in pre-Christian times from trading with Romans. When Christian missionaries showed up in England around the 6th and 7th century, they brought new words with them like altarcandle, clerkmassmonk and school.

When the French speaking Normans took over England in the 11th century, we borrowed loads of words from them like servantstoryreligionfeastappetite, tournamenthonorjoy. For at least 33% of the words you say, the reason you say them is because of this invasion. Because French descends from Latin, technically these words also come from Latin.

It’s easy to forget, but until the end of the 18th century most books were written in Latin. Many educated people could read Latin and so instead of translating a word with a complex meaning like encyclopedia, they would just say the Latin word encyclopedia. Just like today, the more Latin words you use in your speech, the ‘fancier’ you sound.

Most of the Greek words we have actually came to us through Latin or French. So, long ago the Romans borrowed the word crocodile from Greek. French inherited it from Latin, and then English borrowed it from French. In the medical field, though, many of our words come directly from Greek, like asthmapsychosis and hydrophobic. Since some of the earliest medical texts we have are in Ancient Greek, there is an established connection between the Greek language and medicine. 

Hope that helps! Sorry for the length!

Tuesday, January 28, 2014
'author'
Have certain authors helped you grow? Etymologically speaking, they should. The word author ultimately comes from the Latin verb augere ‘to increase, to enrich’. An author causes things to be enriched, increased, or augmented. Latin augere, from Proto-Indo-European *hweg 'to increase or grow', is related to the English verb wax ’to grow’(as in ‘wax and wane’). Also related is your waist, literally your ‘size’ or ‘growth’. Similarly, when you ‘eke out a living’, you cause your money to go farther or spread wider, as eke also comes from *hweg. 
Let this post be auxiliary to your life, since by increasing your knowledge of language it could prove helpful.
Source: etymonline.com

'author'

Have certain authors helped you grow? Etymologically speaking, they should. The word author ultimately comes from the Latin verb augere ‘to increase, to enrich’. An author causes things to be enriched, increased, or augmented. Latin augere, from Proto-Indo-European *hweg 'to increase or grow', is related to the English verb wax ’to grow’(as in ‘wax and wane’). Also related is your waist, literally your ‘size’ or ‘growth’. Similarly, when you ‘eke out a living’, you cause your money to go farther or spread wider, as eke also comes from *hweg

Let this post be auxiliary to your life, since by increasing your knowledge of language it could prove helpful.

Source: etymonline.com

Friday, January 17, 2014
'toast' 
Does this breakfast staple make you thirsty? Etymologically speaking, it should. ‘Thirst’, literally the feeling of dryness, comes from Old English þurst (þ sounds like th), which comes from Proto-Indo-European *ters "dry". ‘Toast’ comes from Latin tostus "the thing that has been scorched", coming from the verb torreo "to make dry, to scorch", itself also from *ters ‘dry’. The Latin word for earth terra (as in ‘terrestrial’ and ‘terrain’) also ultimately comes from *ters 'dry' and literally means 'dry land'.
Show some dry etymological humor and tell your friends: ‘toast makes terrestrials thirsty.’

'toast' 

Does this breakfast staple make you thirsty? Etymologically speaking, it should. ‘Thirst’, literally the feeling of dryness, comes from Old English þurst (þ sounds like th), which comes from Proto-Indo-European *ters "dry". ‘Toast’ comes from Latin tostus "the thing that has been scorched", coming from the verb torreo "to make dry, to scorch", itself also from *ters ‘dry’. The Latin word for earth terra (as in ‘terrestrial’ and ‘terrain’) also ultimately comes from *ters 'dry' and literally means 'dry land'.

Show some dry etymological humor and tell your friends: ‘toast makes terrestrials thirsty.’

Monday, January 13, 2014
"Theoden"
Tolkien’s king of Rohan is unsubtly named from the Old English word þeoden (pronounced theoden), literally “ruler of the people”. Old English þeod means ‘people’ and is etymologically related to deutsch and dutch, both from the Proto-Germanic word *þiudiskaz, literally ‘people-ish”. So the Dutch language is the ‘(native) people-ish language’ as opposed to nonnative Latin. 
The -en part of Theoden is perhaps the same as the -in part of Odin, whose Old English name is Woden. Theoden is the ruler of the theod ‘people’, while Woden is the ruler of wod 'rage, fury', a term originally associated with intoxicated, divinely inspired poetic prophecy.

"Theoden"

Tolkien’s king of Rohan is unsubtly named from the Old English word þeoden (pronounced theoden), literally “ruler of the people”. Old English þeod means ‘people’ and is etymologically related to deutsch and dutch, both from the Proto-Germanic word *þiudiskaz, literally ‘people-ish”. So the Dutch language is the ‘(native) people-ish language’ as opposed to nonnative Latin. 

The -en part of Theoden is perhaps the same as the -in part of Odin, whose Old English name is WodenTheoden is the ruler of the theod ‘people’, while Woden is the ruler of wod 'rage, fury', a term originally associated with intoxicated, divinely inspired poetic prophecy.

Friday, November 8, 2013
Are there any commonalities between 'prodigal' and 'prodigy'? I've often wondered...

Thanks for the question!

Despite their apparent similarities, they’re not actually related.

'Prodigal' ultimately comes from pro + ago "to drive forth". This formed a complex verb prodigo "to consume, to squander", which later formed the adjective prodigus "consumptive, squanderous" and rendered English ‘prodigal’. 

'Prodigy' on the other hand, comes from Latin prodigium 'omen'. Though etymologically disputed, this likely comes from pro aio "to speak forth, to predict (etymologically similar, pre + dico “to say”). So a prodigium 'omen', gives insight or 'predicts' the future, and that's exactly what English 'prodigy' originally meant. Presumably it got used for exceptional children because their fantastic skill as a youngster 'predicted' their future greatness.

Sidenote: The ‘d’ in both ‘prodigal’ and ‘prodigy’ is a false-friend, and is actually only there to aid pronunciation. It’s what’s called an excrescence, a form of epenthesis where a consonant is non-etymologically added to a word, like the ‘d’ in ‘thunder’ from Old English thunor (with no ‘d’).

Hope that helps! Sorry for the length!

Tuesday, November 5, 2013
"toe" 
Would you believe the words “toe”, “token”, “teach”, and “diction” are related? They all descend from a Proto-Indo-European root *deyk- “to point out”. The word “toe”, which originally could also apply to fingers, is literally a “pointer” (think about “pointer finger”!). A “token” is an object that signifies or “points” to something else. To “teach” is to show or point out information, while “diction” (from Latin dicere “to say”) deals with the way you say or “point things out with words”. We even have phrases like “I should point out that…” with the same sense today! 
Remember: Latin d's correspond to native English t's. 
Photo: Angry Toes by Palostable

"toe" 

Would you believe the words “toe”, “token”, “teach”, and “diction” are related? They all descend from a Proto-Indo-European root *deyk- “to point out”. The word “toe”, which originally could also apply to fingers, is literally a “pointer” (think about “pointer finger”!). A “token” is an object that signifies or “points” to something else. To “teach” is to show or point out information, while “diction” (from Latin dicereto say”) deals with the way you say or “point things out with words”. We even have phrases like “I should point out that…” with the same sense today! 

Remember: Latin d's correspond to native English t's. 

Photo: Angry Toes by Palostable

Sunday, April 7, 2013
"hippopotamus"
From Greek hippopotamus, literally “river-horse”. The first part hippos, is related to Latin equus ”horse” and gives us words like “equine” and” equestrian”. For Zelda lovers, Link’s horse Epona is named after the Celtic god of the same name, which literally means “horse god”. The first part of the name is Ep, which means “horse” like Greek hippos. The second part -on means something like “god”, so Matronae are the “mother gods”, Cernunnos is the “horn god”, Sirona is the “star god”, etc. 

"hippopotamus"

From Greek hippopotamus, literally “river-horse”. The first part hippos, is related to Latin equus ”horse” and gives us words like “equine” and” equestrian”. For Zelda lovers, Link’s horse Epona is named after the Celtic god of the same name, which literally means “horse god”. The first part of the name is Ep, which means “horse” like Greek hippos. The second part -on means something like “god”, so Matronae are the “mother gods”, Cernunnos is the “horn god”, Sirona is the “star god”, etc. 

Saturday, April 6, 2013

yesterdaybells:

What’s up with verbs like “put”, “let”, “have”? They don’t really do much as far as tense. Think of “I put on chapstick”. Are these ditransitive? I was thinking about “have” and how it requires an object of some sort, and how the meaning of the utterance with “have” is directed more towards that object. Like if English had an accusative case it would call for it. Do you know what I mean? What’s that called?

Just a note on the tense remark: “put” historically had the dental suffix for past tense (and Dutch keeps it; its past tense is pootte). The verb “let” is similar, it was a reduplicating preterite in Common Germanic (lelot), but in Old English the distinction between the present and past was only a vowel alteration, and a marginal one at that; present læte vs. past let. In my dialect at least (Southeastern USA), the only useful present form for these verbs is the present progressive, like “i’m putting it on the board” or “i’m letting you go”. The marginal past/present distinction these verbs once had has left them with no “true” present form. Pretty interesting observation!

sullenstrange:

Can someone answer this?

How is the IPA [ɡ̊] different from [k]? I thought that the only difference between [g] and [k] was voicing, so wouldn’t making a [g] voiceless just turn it into a [k]?

To be clearer, [k] is not entirely voiceless (at least in Germanic). It obviously has less voicing than the “voiced” [g], and that amount of voicing makes them distinct. Imagine a voice scale where 0 is purely voiceless and 10 is purely voiced. In actuality, English [k] ranks about 2 and [g] ranks about 8. The [ɡ̊] sound ranks somewhere between them, but closer to [g] so maybe a 6? In English, we don’t make a distinction between 6 and 8, but apparently some languages have the phonemes [k] (0-2 on the voice scale), [g] (8-10), and other consonants like [ɡ̊] (maybe 5-7?). I’m not a phonetician, so perhaps i’m totally off. This is how i’ve always understood this though, and if this is wrong, it’s still an interesting concept!

 
Next page