Saturday 16 February 2013

Etymology Online

If you enjoyed the post on Omniglot, you may also enjoy Etymology Online. It's another one of those that can become appreciably addictive.

Etymology is the study of the origins of words. For example:

Etymology: late 14c., ethimolegia "facts of the origin and development of a word," from O.Fr. et(h)imologie (14c., Mod.Fr. étymologie), from L. etymologia, from Gk. etymologia, properly "study of the true sense of a word," from etymon "true sense" (neut. of etymos "true," related to eteos "true") + logos "word." In classical times, of meanings; later, of histories. Latinized by Cicero as veriloquium. As a branch of linguistic science, from 1640s. Related: Etymological; etymologically.

I've known about this site for a while. It really came into its own whilst I was writing an historical piece in which I used a number of fairly current swearwords. Someone challenged me over the authenticity of using such language in a past context. I spent the rest of the day being astounded at how old many of our expletives actually are!

It also gives you a true appreciation of just how many civilisations and languages have influenced modern-day English, from Latin and French through to Greek and Etruscan.

I've trimmed some of these down. For the full description, search for yourself. But, for example:

Fuck: [NB: One of the longest entries on the database!] Until recently a difficult word to trace, in part because it was taboo to the editors of the original [Oxford English Dictionary] when the "F" volume was compiled, 1893-97. Written form only attested from early 16c. OED 2nd edition cites 1503, in the form fukkit; earliest appearance of current spelling is 1535...but presumably it is a much more ancient word than that, simply one that wasn't written in the kind of texts that have survived from [Old English]...

Shit: O.E. scitan, from P.Gmc. *skit-, from PIE *skheid- "split, divide, separate."...Related to shed (v.) on the notion of "separation" from the body (cf. L. excrementum, from excernere "to separate"). It is thus a cousin to science and conscience...The notion that it is a recent word may be because the word was taboo from c.1600 and rarely appeared in print...

Bastard: Early 13c., "illegitimate child," from O.Fr. bastard (11c., Mod.Fr. b√Ętard), "acknowledged child of a nobleman by a woman other than his wife," probably from fils de bast "packsaddle son," meaning a child conceived on an improvised bed (saddles often doubled as beds while traveling)...Alternative possibly is that the word is from P.Gmc. *banstiz "barn," equally suggestive of low origin...

Words both very old, and consisting of far greater context than they are usually afforded in use.

Some other amusing entries include:

God: ...Originally a neuter noun in Germanic, the gender shifted to masculine after the coming of Christianity...

Gun: ...probably a shortening of woman's name Gunilda, found in [Middle English] gonnilde "cannon"...[Old Norse] Gunnhildr, woman's name, from gunnr + hildr, both meaning "war, battle."...The identification of women with powerful weapons is common historically (cf. Big Bertha, Brown Bess, Mons Meg, etc.)...

Wife: ...of uncertain origin.

Author: c.1300, autor "father,"...lit. "one who causes to grow,"...Meaning "one who sets forth written statements" is from late 14c. The -t- changed to -th- 16c. on mistaken assumption of Greek origin.

Write: [Old English] writan "to score, outline, draw the figure of," later "to set down in writing"...Words for "write" in most [Indo-European] languages originally mean "carve, scratch, cut"...a few originally meant "paint"...

You can see how it starts to draw you in. Sort of the thesaurus of thought. It's both a useful tool for writers to fact-check, and an inspiration for the bored.

Enjoy. And if you stumble across any good ones, please drop a comment and share.

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