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Etymology gleanings for September 2018

Many thanks to those who have commented on the recent posts and written me privately. My expertise is in Germanic, with occasional timid inroads into the rest of Indo-European. Therefore, I cannot answer questions about Arabic and Chinese. Below, I’ll say something about Hittite, but, obviously, for my information I depend on the authority of others. The same holds for Classical Greek, Celtic, and Old Slavic.

The word hate, its putative cognates in Hittite and Greek and its connection with heat.

Many closely related Hittite words begin with kart-. All of them refer to anger. The specialists’ unanimous opinion is that their root is the same as in Latin cord- and Engl. heart, even though no sources at our disposal suggest that in Hittite beliefs the heart was the center of anger. Greek kertoméō “I taunt” is more problematic. Its origin is unknown (mere guesswork), but it seems to be of sound-symbolic or sound-imitative origin, like many words belonging to this semantic sphere (probably “low slang”), some of which are borrowings: compare Engl. sneer, jeer, fleer, scoff, chaff, and josh, among quite a few others. German Hitze ~ Engl. heat and hate have incompatible root vowels and should be kept apart. German hunting term Hatz “hunt” is of course akin to hetzen, discussed in the post on hatred.

Is blood red?

Ion Carstoiu is an active researcher living in Rumania and publishing in Rumanian (search for Orginea limbajulu, that is, “language origins,” his site dealing with etymology). He believes that the idea of finding the word for “blood” came to many people from the fact that blood is red (which made speakers think of sacrifices, fight, war, etc.), and he found pairs across languages, allegedly showing that “blood” and “sun,” our glowing luminary, are associated in people’s consciousness. Among his examples are wi (“blood” in Tora) ~ wi in Dakota; ra in Malagash and Sawu and ra in Egypt; gore in English and garri “sun” in Ngadjon (Australia), as well as gorri “red” in Basque; Latin sanguis, along with senggi “blood” in Manchu and sanggwa in Angave (Papua), etc., among quite a few others. Although I have a high opinion of Wilhelm Oehl’s works on primitive creation, I find it hard to see a guiding principle in the material cited above, as I told Mr. Carstoiu privately, but he asked me to publish his material, so that others could think about it, and I promised him to do so.

Dollop, its etymology

The prevalent opinion that this word traveled (perhaps from German) to Norwegian (Norw. dolp “lump”) and thence to England seems to be rather well-founded. I once looked at the history of similar words, such as collop, gallop ~ wallop, jalopy, trollop, lollop, and shallop. None of them seems to be native; a few are of undiscovered origin in English and in the lending languages. There is something innately funny about them and other such (symbolic? onomatopoeic?) formations. The same is true of clop, flop, whop, swop, sop (compare milksop), and their likes.

A dollop: its appearance suggests its etymology. Image credit: Blot Blur Dab by Clker-Free-Vector-Images. CC0 via Pixabay.

More on lying

Yes, indeed, the noun lie can and does sometimes go with epithets: compare bold-faced lie, cited in the comment, brazen, blatant, downright, whopping lie (German grelle Lüge: grell “shrill, glaring,” etc.), along with a few others (see Morton Benson, Evelyn Benson, and Robert Ilson’s The BBI Combinatory Dictionary of English), and even white lie, also noted there. It appears that one can lie on an ascending scale. By contrast, truth, when modified, tends to refer to the depth of the statement: it can be naked, plain, unvarnished, absolute (but opposed to relative!), and so forth.

Danish lyve “to lie” is “regular.” Gothic liugan and all the Scandinavian forms (Old Icelandic ljúga) are phonetic variants of the same protoform. In Danish, g (which we see in ljúga) changed to some semblance of the w-sound, and then to v; hence Danish lav “low” and mave “stomach” versus Old Icelandic lagr and magi. Sometimes this sound disappeared altogether (as in Danish flue “a fly” versus Swedish fluga, and others).


Is this a house? Image credit: Palau house with yapese stones NOAA by Dr. James P. McVey, NOAA Sea Grant Program. Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

In connection with the post of January 21, 2015, a correspondent asked me why the origin of the word house is still unknown. The origin of this word is not unknown: it is rather not quite clear and therefore debatable. The answer evades us because we don’t and cannot know what exactly house once meant. Did it refer to a human habitat or to some shed, granary, hut, or whatever? In many cases, even when we believe that we know what the oldest meaning was, the root continues to be opaque. The history of husband (mentioned in the question) has been traced, so that there is no riddle. The question continues: “What word did people use to describe the house before the Viking Age?” Since there are no written records for the ancient epoch, we know very little about its vocabulary. Very little is not a euphemism for nothing: sometimes very old words were borrowed by people’s neighbors, and their meaning becomes partly clear. In some way, this holds for house, as explained in the post. But a still more “original” word cannot be known.

Etymological dreams

Question: “Is there any law in etymology like Grimm’s Law for phonetics”? To discover such a law has been historical linguists’ dream for about two centuries. Alas, the answer to the question is “No.” But some general directions exist, for, although there is no law, quite a few patterns have been discovered. They relate to semantic change and show that certain meanings often and rather naturally produce other meanings. Unfortunately, it does not follow that such changes must occur. For this reason, historical phonetics is rather reliable, while historical semantics contains only non-obligatory recipes.

The way we write (and speak). From newspapers:

“The U.S. government maintains a bevy of watch lists. The most well known, maintained by the FBI, is a large database, etc.” (1) Can bevy be applied to inanimate objects? I doubt it. (2) Should well known be hyphenated? I am sure that here, in its attributive function, it should, as opposed to this rule is well known to everybody (where it is used predicatively). (3) Finally, what is attractive about the phrase most well-known, as opposed to best-known?

“The crash left the bus laying on its side….” I have once quoted this sentence. No comment. Obviously, this was a horrible lay.

The article describes a blood-curdling incident: a man assaulted a woman, bit off part of a man’s finger, and attacked a sheriff’s deputy. This tirade, we are informed, lasted until, etc. Moral: don’t use the words whose meaning you don’t know.

Quite a tirade. Image credit: Peter Paul Rubens Massacre of the Innocents by Ken Thompson the Collector: The Thompson Collection at the Art Gallery of Ontario. Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Featured image credit: Urban Sunset by Chase Emmons. Public Domain via Unsplash.

Recent Comments

  1. Yves Rehbein

    The most primitive form of a house in the modern sense is just a roof. I suppose an important function is shelter from rain, but also from the sun. To build a house a placid place in a good situation is needed to settle on. Cover from wind can be achieved by digging into the ground or raising walls. Protection from the cold is given by a fire place, the heart of the house.

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