Thursday, 25 June 2009

diamond and tame

Proto-Indo-European *demh₂- "to constrain, force" became Greek δάμαω "to tame", combined with ἀ "not" to form ἀδάμαντα "invincible". This was borrowed into Latin as adamantem and applied poetically for the hardest iron or steel, or anything indestructible. It became Old French adamaunt, and was borrowed into English as adamant. I love this part of the OED's definition of adamant:

Name of an alleged rock or mineral, as to which vague, contradictory, and fabulous notions long prevailed.

A distinction was made in late Latin between adamentem and its variant diamantem - the first meaning "loadstone" and the second meaning "diamond". Some folk etymology was involved: it was thought that adamentem was derived from adamō "to have an attraction for", so the word was associated with magnets and loadstones. diamantem was borrowed into English as diamond thru Old French diamant.

The suffixed o-grade form *domh₂-o- became English tame.

2 comments :

Adam Roberts said...

Makes me wonder whether, as an Adam, I'm on the adamtine or the tame side of things.

I'm also struck by the evolution of 'tame' from 'tamed', impling 'a wild animal, curbed and brought under control' with the emphasis on the wildness, to 'feeble, inspipid', which I suppose is the main usage today. Looks a little contrary, that; as if one thing now means its opposite.

goofy said...

I think it's fascinating how normal semantic changes can result in a word changing into meaning the opposite. I'm reminded of garble.