Given how many words that refer to breaking begin with br-, to what extent is classifying break with sound imitative words justified?
Are break and brake related? Yes, they are, but the nature of their relationship deserves a detailed explanation. Break is an ancient word. It has cognates in all the Germanic languages, and Latin frango, whose root shows up in the borrowed words fragile, fragment, and refract, is believed to be allied to it (the infix n may be disregarded for reconstructing the protoform). The principal parts of break in Old English were brecan (infinitive), bræc (preterit singular; æ, as in Modern Engl. man), and brocen (past participle). At that time, verbs like break (so-called strong verbs, which displayed such alternations) had four principal parts.
In today’s English, the letters u and o have the same value in mutter and mother, and we have long since resigned ourselves to the fact that lover, clover, and mover are spelled alike but do not rhyme. (Therefore, every less familiar word, like plover, is a problem even to native speakers.) Those who want to know more about the causes of this madness will find an answer in any introduction to the history of English. I will state only a few essentials. For example, the vowel of mother was once long, as in school, but, unlike what happened in school, it became short and later acquired its modern pronunciation, as happened, for example, in but.
This is a weekly blog, and ever since it began I have been meaning to write a post about the word week. Now that we are in the middle of the first week of the first summer month, the time appears to be ripe for my overdue project.
Dickens and non-standard speech. In connection with wash-up for worship in Pickwick, it has been noted that, according to some, Dickens’s phonetic spelling cannot be trusted. I am aware of this verdict (compare, among others, his enigmatic kyebosk for kibosh). His rendering of the Yorkshire dialect (in Nicholas Nickleby) and even of Cockney has been challenged more than once.
The young Dickens was the first to record the word kibosh. We don’t know for sure how it sounded in the 1830’s, but, judging by the spelling ky(e)-, it must always have been pronounced with long i. The main 19th-century English etymologists (Eduard Mueller, Hensleigh Wedgwood, and Walter W. Skeat) did not include kibosh in their dictionaries. They probably had nothing to say about it, though Mueller, a German, hardly ever saw such a rare and insignificant word.
As much as 700 years ago English got the word varnish from French. The French word had come from a Latin source which in turn seems to have come from a Greek word that is said to have arisen because there was a city on the Mediterranean famed for its varnishes; or perhaps the first place that varnishes were sourced.
Slang words are so hard to etymologize because they are usually isolated, while language historians prefer to work with sound correspondences, cognates, and protoforms. Most modern “thick” dictionaries tell us that rogue, the subject of this post, is of unknown origin. This conclusion could be expected, for rogue, a 16th-century creation, meant “a wandering mendicant.” (Skeat attributes the original sense “a surly fellow” to it but does not adduce sufficient evidence in support of his statement.)
Charles Hodgson presents his weekly podcast. This week he looks at the word “client”.
The title is from The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club (wash-up is the way one of the characters pronounces worship), but I owe the idea of this post to two questions. I decided not to wait for the next set of “gleanings,” because my summer schedule will prevent me from answering questions and responding to comments with the regularity one could wish for. Both questions concern Engl. r.
Bryan A. Garner is the award-winning author or editor of more than 20 books. Garner’s Modern American Usage has established itself as the preeminent contemporary guide to the effective use of the English language. The 3rd edition, which was just published, has been thoroughly updated with new material on nearly every page. Below we have posted one of his daily usage tips about the word “partake”. To subscribe to his daily tips click here.
The volcano that spewed ash into the Icelandic skies and disrupted world air travel has a name that’s pretty difficult to pronounce and pretty difficult to spell; it’s Eyjafjallajökull. This evidently means “island mountain glacier.” Nothing about volcanoes, fire or ash in that word.
I notice that my posts on usage, including spelling, invite livelier comments than those on word origins, and most questions I receive also concern usage. This is natural, and, as always, I am grateful for questions, suggestions, and criticism. Today I will take care of about half of my backlog but will try to get rid of the other half in May.
Mark Peters, a language columnist for Good and Visual Thesaurus, as well as the blogger behind The Pancake Proverbs, The Rosa Parks of Blogs, and Wordlustitude is our guest blogger this week. In this post, he looks at nonce words in the Oxford English Dictionary
Five days a week Charles Hodgson produces Podictionary – the podcast for word lovers, Thursday episodes here at OUPblog.