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
Anonymous:
picnic

Modern English ‘picnic’ likely comes from the French phrase piquer nique, The phrase is literally piquer 'to pick' + nique 'nothing whatever', and the word 'picnic' originally described a social event where everyone brought their own wine. I suppose the idea was that everyone 'picked up a little something' to contribute. The word seems to come into English around 1650. Thanks for the question!

Anonymous:
Hive

Modern English ‘hive’ comes from Proto-Indo-European *kuhp 'water-vessel'. Our word 'cup', borrowed from late Latin cuppa 'tub', is probably also from *kuhp. When you think about it, both a ‘hive’ and a ‘cup’ are objects to hold stuff so it makes sense! Thanks for the question!

Thursday, May 1, 2014
"Belle"

Belle comes from Latin bella 'beautiful', the feminine form of the word. The Latin masculine form bellus, is the source of a beau ’male lover’. The Latin noun bellitas 'beauty' was formed from these, and is the source of our word beauty. That adjective bellus, from earlier *benelos, is itself related to Latin bona ‘good’ as in the phrase bona fide 'in good faith'. It's a beautiful thing to get a bonus also, since you’re getting extra payment solely ‘as a good thing’. 

"Belle"

Belle comes from Latin bella 'beautiful', the feminine form of the word. The Latin masculine form bellus, is the source of a beau ’male lover’. The Latin noun bellitas 'beauty' was formed from these, and is the source of our word beauty. That adjective bellus, from earlier *benelos, is itself related to Latin bonagood’ as in the phrase bona fide 'in good faith'. It's a beautiful thing to get a bonus also, since you’re getting extra payment solely ‘as a good thing’. 

Friday, January 31, 2014
"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

 
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