Bread may not be a very old word, but it is old enough, and, whatever its age, its origin has not been discovered. However, the harder the riddle, the more interesting it is to try to solve it. Even if the answer evades us, it does not follow that we have learned nothing along the way.
Two recent posts (part 1 and part 2) were devoted to the origin of the word bride, and it occurred to me that a quick look at a few other br-words might be of some use. Breed, brood, and bread have been more than once invoked in trying to explain the etymology of the troublesome Germanic noun. […]
So where did the word bride come from? Granted, the initial meaning of bride is not entirely clear, but neither is it hopelessly opaque. Whatever the interpretation, the bride has always been a woman who will soon become a wife, and the mystery surrounding the sought-after etymology comes as a surprise, regardless of whether the initial sense of the noun was “the woman to be married,” “the woman after the consummation of the marriage rite,” or even “daughter-in-law” ~ “a new female member of the adopting family.”
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 blog named “The Oxford Etymologist,” which started on March 1, 2008, and which appears every Wednesday, rain or shine (this is Post no. 663), owes many of its topics to association. Some time ago, I wrote about the puzzling Gothic verb liugan “to lie, tell falsehoods” and “to marry” (August 15, 2018) and about the etymology of the English verb bless (October 12, 2016).
Not too long ago (12 October 2016), I wrote a post about the etymology of the verb bless and decided that my next topic would be blood, because bless and blood meet, even if in an obscure way. But more pressing business—the origin of liver (21 March 2018) and kidney (11 April 2018)—prevented me from meeting that self-imposed deadline. Today, Dracula-like, I am ready to tackle blood.
Of course is such a trivial phrase that few, I am afraid, will be interested in its history. And yet, what can be stranger than the shape of this most common two-word group?
To find out how you pay your dues, you have to read the whole post. It would be silly to begin with the culmination. The story will be about phonetics and table talk (first about phonetics).
In a jiffy: Stephen Goranson has offered several citations of this idiom (it means “in a trice”), possibly pointing to its origin in sailor slang. English is full of phrases that go back to the language of sailors, some of which, like tell it to the marines, by and large, and the cut of one’s jib (to cite a few), are well-known.
As a matter of fact, it is a long story, because the distant origin of hate—the word, not the feeling—is far from clear. As usual, we should try to determine the earliest meaning of our word (for it may be different from the one we know) and search for the cognates in and outside Germanic. At the beginning of the month (see the post for 1 August 2018), a good deal was said about the Gothic language.
In 1882, Mark Twain gave a short speech titled “On the Decay of the Art of Lying,” not his best or wittiest. I assume that Oscar Wilde did not miss the published text of that speech, for seven years later, he brought out a kind of treatise in the form of a dialogue with a similar title, namely, “The Decay of Lying—An Observation,” one of his most powerful and brilliant (as always, too brilliant) essays.
It would be unwise to leave the topic of emotions (see the posts on anger, dread, and fear), without saying something about hate and hatred. Although hate refers to intense dislike, it is curious to observe how diluted the word has become: today we can hate orange juice, a noisy neighbor, even our own close relative, and of course we hate not finding the objects we have mislaid. For some reason, to dislike, have little regard for, and resent are not enough for expressing our dissatisfaction.
Work on a project for reformed spelling is underway (under way). Three comments and letters have come to my notice. Masha Bell called our attention to useful and useless double letters. No doubt, account and arrive do not need their cc and rr, and I am all for abolishing them. I won’t live long enough to see acquire spelled as akwire, but perhaps aquire will satisfy future generations?
There is a feeling that idioms resist interference. A red herring cannot change its color any more than the leopard can change its spots. And yet variation here is common. For instance, talk a blue streak coexists with swear (curse) a blue streak. One even finds to swear like blue blazes (only the color remains intact). A drop in the bucket means the same as a drop in the ocean. We can cut something to bits or to pieces, and so forth.
There will be no revelations below. I owe all I have to say to my database and especially to the papers by Ian F. Hancock (1979) and Dingxu Shi (1992). But surprisingly, my folders contain an opinion that even those two most knowledgeable researchers have missed, and I’ll mention it below for what it is worth. Several important dictionaries tell us that pidgin is a “corruption” of Engl. business, and I am not in a position to confirm or question their opinion.
My discussion of idioms does not rest on a solid foundation. In examining the etymology of a word, I can rely on the evidence of numerous dictionaries and on my rich database. The linguists interested in the origin of idiomatic phrases wade through a swamp. My database of such phrases is rather rich, but the notes I have amassed are usually “opinions,” whose value is hard to assess. Sometimes the origin of a word is at stake.