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When Dan Rossi requested this word on tape, he stuttered and then apologized.
I couldn’t think of a more appropriate piece of audio; it’s perfect.
As soon as I began looking into the etymology of stutter I bumped up against its synonym stammer.
There is no evidence that these words are etymologically related but there is a certain similarity to them. The roots of each word point to different meanings and I’d speculate that it is this vague similarity in the sounds of the words combined with the compatibility of their earlier meanings that lead to them being synonyms today.
Stammer was the first to appear in written English around the year 1000.
This date would make it Old English.
Stutter however waited until the time of Shakespeare to show up.
That makes it Modern English.
But there was a Middle English stut that came before with the same meaning, and that can be traced to Germanic roots.
So both stammer and stutter evolved from the same Germanic language family. Back before they became English words they held their own and survived in the ancestor language because they had different meanings. Stammer meant then what it means today, but stut seems to have had a meaning of banging into things.
The image of a stutterer’s words banging into each other as they try to get out and into a sentence is a pretty compelling notion.
Could it be that this image combined with the similarity of the sound of the words influenced their coming together as synonyms?
Even further back some sources indicate that stammer‘s roots meant “to impede” something generally, while stutter‘s roots meant “to push”.
In some ways these seem opposites so these synonyms have come a long way.
Five days a week Charles Hodgson produces Podictionary – the podcast for word lovers, Thursday episodes here at OUPblog. He’s also the author of Carnal Knowledge – A Navel Gazer’s Dictionary of Anatomy, Etymology, and Trivia as well as the audio book Global Wording – The Fascinating Story of the Evolution of English.
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