In 1931, Ernest Weekley, the author of a still popular English etymological dictionary and many excellent books on the history of English words, brought out an article titled “Our Early Etymologists.” It appeared in Quarterly Review 257. In our fast-paced, Internet-dominated world, few people are inclined to leaf through old periodicals.
Editor’s Note: An updated version of this article addresses the error where the author incorrectly states that the plural neuter term in Latin is “Latinae.” Please read the updated article here. We regret the error. In recent years, the term Latinx has become popular in academic settings in English to designate a group of people without reference […]
Last week (November 6, 2019), in passing, I mentioned my idea of the origin of the word dog and did not mean to return to this subject, but John Cowan suggested that I consider an alternative etymology (dog as a color word). I have been aware of it for a long time, but why is my idea worse?
I received a question about the origin of French adieu and its close analogs in the other Romance languages. This question is easy to answer. The word goes back to the phrase à Dieu “to God,” which is the beginning of the longer locution à Dieu commande, that is, “I commend (you) to God” or, if we remain with French, “je recommande à Dieu.” The European parting formulas are of rather few types.
Most of us have been told at some point that a sentence has a subject and predicate and that the predicate consists of a verb and an object—the girl kicked the ball. We may have been introduced to distinctions such as transitive, intransitive, and linking verbs (like carry, snore, and become, respectively). But there is much more to the intricacies of what must follow a verb.
As promised, I am continuing the series on senses. There have already been posts on feel and taste. To show how hard it may be to discover the origin of some of our most basic words, I have chosen the verb hear. Germanic is here uniform: all the languages of this group have predictable reflexes (continuations) of the ancient form hauzjan.
Having discussed the origin of the verbs smell (“The sense and essence of smell”) and feel (“Fingers feel, or feel free”), I thought that it might be worthwhile to touch on the etymology of see, hear, and taste. Touch, ultimately of onomatopoeic origin, has been mentioned, though briefly, in one of the earlier posts. I’ll begin the projected series with taste.
Now that I have said everything I know about the etymology of the word finger (see the posts on feeling fingers), and those who agree and disagree with me have also made their opinion public, one more topic has to be discussed, namely, the origin of the verb feel.
For the uninitiated, the commentary on a rugby game – foot-up, hand-off, head-up, put-in, knock-on – can make it sound more like a dance routine than the bruising sport it really is. If you don’t know your forwards from your backs, or have no idea why a player might opt to go blind, this guide is for you.
Some more finger work: in the posts for September 25 and October 2, 2019, the etymology of the word finger was discussed. Some comments on the first one require further notice.
Final -r. I deliberately stayed away from the origin of -r in fingr-, though I did mention the problem.
Many of us know the name Jack the Ripper. Perhaps we associate it with a dark shadow wearing a top hat and holding a knife in the middle of a foggy street in Victorian London. But not many of us know that this image is very far away from any reliable fact that has reached us about the 1888 tragic events that took place in Whitechapel.
This October marks the thirty-third anniversary of the passing of Rudolph Flesch, the patron saint of brevity.
Finger seems to be a transparent word, but this transparency is an illusion, for what is fing- (assuming that we understand what -er is)? Our story began last week (see the post for September 25, 2019), and I attempted to show that one of the two best-known etymologies of finger, namely, from the numeral five, is “less than fully convincing” (a common academic euphemism for “nearly unacceptable”).
This will be a story of both protagonists mentioned in the title: the verb feel and the noun finger. However, it may be more profitable to begin with finger. In the year 2000, Ari Hoptman brought out an article on the origin of this word (NOWELE 36, 77-91). Although missed by the later dictionaries, it contains not only an exhaustive survey of everything ever said about the etymology of finger but also a reasonable conjecture, differing from those he had found in his sources, both published and unpublished.
Last week (September 11, 2019), I discussed the origin of sweet and promised to tackle its partial opposite. Sour has been attested in nearly all the Old Germanic languages: nearly, because, like sweet, it never turned up in the Gothic gospels.
The post on the origin of the word smell has been read by more people than any other in recent months. On the wave of this unexpected popularity, I decided to write an essay or two on related themes. If they arouse enough interest, I may continue in the same vein.