The previous post dealt with the uneasy history of the word threshold, and throughout the text I wrote thresh~ thrash, as though those were two variants of the same word. Yet today they are two different words, and their relation poses a few questions. Old English had the strong verb þerscan (þ = th in Engl. thresh), with cognates everywhere in Germanic.
One does not have to be a specialist to suggest that threshold is either a disguised compound or that it contains a root and some impenetrable suffix. Disguised compounds are words like bridal (originally, bride + ale but now not even a noun as in the past, because –al was taken for the suffix of an adjective) or barn, a blend of the words for “barley,” of which only b is extant, and Old Engl. earn “house.”
When it comes to origins, we know as little about the word home as about the word house. Distinguished American linguist Winfred P. Lehmann noted that no Indo-European terminology for even small settlements has been preserved in Germanic. And here an important distinction should be made.
I am pleased to report that A Happy New Year is moving along its warlike path at the predicted speed of one day in twenty-four hours and that it is already the end of January. Spring will come before you can say Jack Robinson, as Kipling’s bicolored python would put it, and soon there will be snowdrops to glean. Etymology and spelling are the topics today. Some other questions will be answered in February.
It is astounding how mysterious the origin of such simple words as man, wife, son, god, house, and others like them is. They are old, even ancient, and over time their form has changed very little, sometimes not at all, so that we do not have to break through a thicket of sound laws to restitute their initial form.
A dwelling is, obviously, a place in which someone dwells. Although the word is transparent , the verb dwell is not. Only its derivation poses no problems. Some verbs belong to the so-called causative group. They mean “to make do or to cause to do.”
Although I am still in 2014, as the title of this post indicates, in the early January one succumbs to the desire to say something memorable that will set the tone to the rest of the year. So I would like to remind everybody that in 1915 James Murray, the first and greatest editor of the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) or New English Dictionary (NED), died.
My post on laughing attracted two comments: an alleged counterexample from an Icelandic saga and a veritable flood of vituperation. The second writer was so disgusted that he could not even make himself finish reading the essay.
As every student of etymology knows, today, after at least five centuries of European historical linguistics, it is hard and often impossible to discover what has been said about the origin of any word of such well-researched languages as Classical Greek, Latin, French, Spanish, German, or English. Hence my fight for updated analytic etymological dictionaries […]
One of the dialogues in Jonathan Swift’s work titled A complete Collection of Genteel and Ingenious Conversation (1738) runs as follows
I have noticed that many of my acquaintances misuse the phrases a dry sense of humor and a quiet sense of humor. Some people can tell a joke with a straight face, but, as a rule, they do it intentionally; their performance is studied and has little to do with “dryness.”
Two weeks ago, I discussed the troubled origin of the word aye “yes,” as in the ayes have it, and promised to return to this word in connection with some other formulas of affirmation. The main of them is yes.
As always, I want to thank those who have commented on the posts and written me letters bypassing the “official channels” (though nothing can be more in- or unofficial than this blog; I distinguish between inofficial and unofficial, to the disapproval of the spellchecker and some editors). I only wish there were more comments and letters.
The ayes may have it, but we, poor naysayers, remain in ignorance about the derivation of ay(e) “yes.” I hope to discuss the various forms of assent in December, and we’ll see that that the origin of some synonyms of ay(e) is also enigmatic.
From time to time I receive letters encouraging me to discuss not only words but also idioms. I would be happy to do so if I were better equipped. The origin of proverbial sayings (unless they go back to so-called familiar quotations) and idioms is usually lost beyond recovery.
As I mentioned last time, one of our correspondents asked me whether anything is known about this idiom. My database has very little on brown study, but I may refer to an editorial comment from the indispensable Notes and Queries (1862, 3rd Series/I, p. 190). The writer brings brown study in connection with French humeur brune, literally “brown humor, or disposition,” said about a somber or melancholy temperament.