Tuesday, 4 November 2008


down the preposition and down "an open expanse of elevated land" used to be the same word: Old English dūn "hill". Of dūne meant "off the hill or height", and this became the modern preposition down.

The AHD has the Proto-Indo-European root being *dʰeuh₂- "to close, finish, come full circle". This became *dʰuh₂-no- "enclosed, fortified place; hill-fort", then Old English dūn "hill".

town is from Old English tūn from Proto-Germanic *tūnaz- "fortified place". The German cognate is Zaun "fence, hedge; enclosed place". The AHD and Pokorny claim that Proto-Germanic *tūnaz- was borrowed (and shifted via Grimm's Law) from Celtic *dūnon "hill, stronghold" (as in Old Irish dún "fortress"), which is from PIE *dʰeuh₂-.

And that's how down and town might be related.


WordzGuy said...

I've always assumed that the term "downtown" (and its correlate "uptown") to mean the city center derives from the geography of Manhattan. The notion of a city center is otherwise, AFAIK, an urban/sub-urban distinction. Any thoughts?

goofy said...

I've read that too. The OED says nothing about it, but the first citation (in my version anyway) is about NYC. I'll see what I can find.