Friday, 30 November 2007


With-it readers might have noticed that the blog has moved. I'm not sure what's going to happen with it yet. Right now I have no time to post anything but reruns. So enjoy these hits from the past.

btw, this can't be right:

Thursday, 29 November 2007

mildewy Melissa marmalade

marmalade is from French marmelade from Portuguese marmelada from marmelo "quince", from Latin melimēlum. The first /l/ in the Latin word became /r/ in Portuguese by dissimilation - because there is another /l/ later in the word.

Latin melimēlum is from Greek melímēlon "kind of apple grafted on a quince", a combination of μέλι méli "honey" and μηλον mēlon "apple". Greek μέλι is from Proto-Indo-European *melit- "honey" (IEW meli-t 723).

mildew is from the suffixed zero-grade *ml̥d-to- "honeyed", which in Proto-Germanic combined with *đauwaz "dew" (from *dheu-² "to flow") to form *meliþ-đauwaz "honeydew". This became Old English mildēaw, meledēaw "honeydew, nectar", then mildew.

Melissa is from Greek μέλισσα mélissa "honeybee", from the suffixed form *melit-ya.

source: The American Heritage Dictionary of Indo-European Roots, Calvert Watkins, 2001
The Oxford Etymological Dictionary, 1991

pork, porcelain, porcupine, porpoise, aardvark

The Proto-Indo-European root *porḱo- "young pig" (IEW porḱo- 841) became Latin porcus, Old French porc, then English pork.

The root also became Proto-Germanic *farhaz. This became Afrikaans vark "pig", which combined with aarde "earth" (cognate with English earth) to form aardvark.

From the same Proto-Indo-European root we also get:
porcelain from Old French porcelaine "cowry shell", from Old Italian porcellana, which is from Latin porcus. The connection being, apparently, that a cowry shell resembles a pig's back.
porcupine from Middle English porke despine, from Old French porc espin "spiny pig".
porpoise from Old French porpeis, formed from porc and peis "fish".

Wednesday, 28 November 2007

grime and Christ

Proto-Indo-European *ǵhreh₁i- "to rub" becomes Proto-Germanic *ǥrīm- "smear", then English grime. It also becomes Proto-Germanic *ǥris- "to frighten", as in "to grate on the mind". This becomes Old English grislīċ "terrifying" and Modern English grisly.

The extended form *ǵhrīs- becomes the ancient Greek verb χρί̄ω khrīō "to anoint". The "verbal adjective" of this was χρῑστός khrīstos "anointed". This is borrowed into Latin as Chrīstus, and then into English as Christ.

source: The American Heritage Dictionary of Indo-European Roots, Calvert Watkins, 2001

Tuesday, 27 November 2007

chimera and Himalaya

The Proto-Indo-European root *ǵhei- (IEW 425) "winter, snow" in the zero-grade form *ǵhim-r-yə- became Greek χίμαρος khimaros "he-goat" and χίμαιρα khimaira "she-goat", which was also used for the mythological monster which was one part goat, one part lion and one part snake. This became Latin chimaera, which was borrowed into English twice - first as chimere from French, then as chimaera or chimera directly from Latin. What's the connection between "winter" and "goat"? According to wikipedia, "Chimaira designated a young goat that had seen but one winter."

The suffixed zero-grade form *ǵhi-mo- became Sanskrit हिमः himaḥ "snow", which combined with आलयः ālayaḥ "abode" to form हिमालयः himālayaḥ "abode of snow."

The PIE root also became Latin hībernus "pertaining to winter," and hibernate.

Thursday, 22 November 2007

punch and finger

punch as in the drink. It's perhaps from Hindi पाँच pāṃc "five", because it was made with five ingredients. The Proto-Indo-European root is *penkʷe "five" (IEW penkṷe 808). In Sanskrit it became पंच paṃca, then Hindi पाँच pāṃc. The Sanskrit paṃca also gives us Panjabi and Punjabi from ਪੰਜਾਬੀ paṃjābī meaning "five rivers". [correction: the panj of Panjabi is actually from Persian پنج panj "five", from the same Indic source as the Sanskrit.]

In Germanic *penkʷe became *fimf "five", and also *fingwraz "one of five". These became Old English fīf and finger, then modern English five and finger.

An alternate form of *penkʷe was *kʷenkʷe, which developed into Latin quinque "five", and so words like quintet.

Tuesday, 20 November 2007

coracle and scaramouche?

coracle, a small boat made of material stretched over a wooden frame, a word I only know from The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, is from Welsh corwgl, cwrwgl, from Middle Irish curach. According to An Etymological Glossary of Proto-Celtic, the Old Irish word curach is from Proto-Celtic *koruko- "(leather) boat". And there's a note:

A connection of these words with Proto-Indo-European *(s)koro- 'leather' (OCS kora, Lat. corium, Pokorny 939) appears probable.

*(s)koro- is the o-grade form of 4. *(s)ker, *(s)kerǝ-, *(s)krē- "to cut" (938-947). Looking at the relevant entry in Pokorny, it's not at all clear to me if Pokorny thinks Proto-Celtic *koruko- is from this root or not. I'll pretend that he does, so that I can connect coracle to the cool word scaramouch, the commedia dell'arte character. The English word is from French Scaramouche, from Italian Scaramuccia, a jocular use of scaramuccia meaning "skirmish". This was borrowed from a source akin to the Proto-Germanic extended form *skerm- "to protect", which is from our Proto-Indo-European *(s)ker. skirmish is from the same Proto-Germanic word, thru Old French eskermir "to fight with a sword". *(s)ker in its extended o-grade form *kort- became Latin cortex "bark", ie, "that which can be cut off". This was borrowed into English to refer to the outer layer of an internal organ, in particular the brain.

glasnost and clatter

The Proto-Indo-European root is *gal- "to call, shout". The suffixed form *gal-so- became Old Church Slavonic гласъ glasŭ "voice", then Russian глас glas "voice", then гласность glasnost' "publicity, openness". The Proto-Germanic form *klat- became Old English *clatrian, then Modern English clatter.

source: The American Heritage Dictionary of Indo-European Roots, Calvert Watkins, 2001

Saturday, 17 November 2007

caramel and calamari

caramel has a few suggested etymologies: it's from Latin canna "cane" + mellis "honey", or it's from Arabic. The American Heritage Dictionary says it's from the Proto-Indo-European root *ḱolh₂-mo- "grass, reed" (IEW ḱoləmo-s 612). The zero-grade form *ḱlh₂-mo- became Greek κάλαμος "reed", which was borrowed into Latin as calamus "reed, cane". The diminutive form of this, calamellus, became Portuguese caramel, Old Spanish caramel, caramelo, and Old French caramel. Some dissimilation going on there. Latin calamārius "relating to a reed pen" is also from calamus. This became Italian calamaro, plural calamari "squid", perhaps by associating pen ink with squid ink.