Friday, 30 April 2010

giddy and god

Here's another example of how etymologies are not definitions. Those people who complain when decimate is used to mean something other than "destroy ten percent", or when unique is used to mean something other than "one of a kind", should complain whenever giddy is used to mean something other than "possessed by god".

It's from Old English gidiġ "mad, insane, foolish, stupid", from *gydiġ, an ablauted version of Proto-Germanic *ǥuđīǥo-, which is composed of *ǥuđo- "god" and the suffix *-īǥo-. The OED says the primary meaning is "possessed by a god". If *-īǥo- is English -y as in icy, rainy, dusty etc. then giddy is "goddy" or "full of god".

There is a similar etymology in enthusiasm.

The further etymology of god is disputed. Both the OED and the AHD offer two theories. It might be derived from PIE *ǵhu-tom, the neuter verbal adjective of *ǵheu- "to pour, pour a libation" (Sanskrit hu "to sacrifice", Greek χέω "to pour", Latin fundō "to pour"). Or it could be from *ǵheu(H)- "to call, invoke" (Sanskrit "to call"). So it could have the etymological meaning of "what is worshipped by sacrifice" or "what is invoked".

Monday, 26 April 2010

queasy and Jain

The origin of queasy is uncertain - according to the OED, a possibility is that it is a borrowing from early Scandinavian, cf. Old Icelandic kveisa "boil" and Norwegian Nynorsk kveis "hangover". These words might be from PIE *gʷeiH- "to prevail, be mighty" ("to press down, conquer" in the AHD). Cf. Old English cwysan "to crush".

*gʷeiH- is the source of Sanskrit ji "conquer, overcome" and जिन jina, "victor", a Buddha. From this comes the word जैन jaina "a worshiper of the Jinas" and Jain. The Sanskrit is also the source of Hindi जय jay "victory" as in Jai Ho.

Thursday, 22 April 2010

numskull and nemesis

The num in numskull and numb are both from nomme - the past participle of nim "to take" (as in German nehmen). The earliest meaning of nomme was "deprived of physical sensation", ie "taken". Nim fell out of use around the 15th century. It's from Proto-Indo-European *nem- "to assign, allot" (not this *nem-).

The OED says the semantic development from "allot" to "take" is difficult to account for, but to me it seems like auto-antonymy, similar to how bad is used to mean "good".

The Greek derivative νέμω "to allot" became νέμεσις "distribution of what is due, retribution", and Nemesis, the goddess of retribution.

There's a similar connection between distributing things and deities with *bhag-.

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Monday, 19 April 2010

sewer and island

Proto-Indo-European *akʷ-ā- "water" became Latin aqua. Combined with ex- "out", it became *exaquāria, becoming Old French sewiere "channel to carry off overflow from a fishpond".

*akʷ-ā- became Proto-Germanic *aǥwiō (AHD) or *ahwiō- (OED) then *aujō- "thing on the water". This became Old English īeġ "island". This combined with land to form īeġland - the s was added to the word sometime after the 15th century because it was thought to be related to isle.

*akʷ-ā- is also found in the name of the glacier covering the troublesome Icelandic volcano, Eyjafjallajökull. Ey is "island", from Proto-Germanic *aujō-. Fjöll is "mountain", from PIE *peli-s- and cognate with English fell "mountain". Jökull means "glacier" and is from PIE *i̯eg- "ice", and I think is exactly cognate with Old English ġicel "ice", which became the -icle in icicle.

Friday, 9 April 2010

Richard and cancer

Proto-Indo-European *kar-/*ker- "hard" in the o-grade suffixed form *kor-tu- became Old High German hard "hard, bold, stern". Combined with rīhhi "rule" (from *h₃reǵ-) we get Rīcohard "strong in rule", and Richard.

*kar- was possibly extended to refer to things with hard shells, like crabs, as in Greek καρκίνος (from *kar-k-ino-) and the Latin cancer (dissimilated from the reduplicated form *kar-kr-o-) - both meaning "crab, sign of the Zodiac, cancer".

How do we get from "crab" to "tumour"? According to medieval writers, it was because the swollen veins around a tumour resembled the legs of a crab.

Thursday, 8 April 2010

kirpan and bias

The kirpan, the Sikh ceremonial dagger, is back in the news in Toronto because someone was recently attacked with one.

Hindi and Punjabi किरपन/ਕਿਰਪਾਣ kirapan/kirapāṇ is derived from a source akin to Sanskrit कृपाण kr̥pāṇa "sword". According to IEW 938 this is from *(s)kerp-, an extended form of the root *(s)ker- "to cut". (I've discussed this root before.)

One of the more surprising derivatives of *(s)ker-, according to the AHD, is bias. The zero-grade suffixed form *kr̥s-yo- became Greek κάρσιος "cross-wise", combining with ἐπί "upon" to form ἐπικάρσιος "cross-wise, at an angle". This was supposedly borrowed into Vulgar Latin as *(e)bigassius, becoming Old French biais "oblique". I'm skeptical; the OED makes no mention of this. The theory actually mentioned and rejected by the OED is more interesting: Diez's theory that it is from Latin bifax "two-faced".

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

pretzel and mirth

I love pretzels.

Pretzel was borrowed from German Bretzel, borrowed from 12th century Latin bracellus "kind of cake or biscuit", from Latin brāchiātus "having arms" plus the suffix -ellus. According to the OED, the biscuit was so named "on account of the resemblance to folded arms".

The OED also notes "The English form with initial p- probably represents a perception of the unaspirated pronunciation of b- in regional German (south.)." But that doesn't explain how we get the aspirated /p/ from an unaspirated /b/.

Latin brāchium "arm" was borrowed from Greek βραχίων "arm", the comparative of βραχύς "short", also "upper arm" as opposed to the longer forearm.

βραχύς is from Proto-Indo-European *mreǵʰ-u- "short".

The zero-grade form *mr̥ǵʰ-u- became Old English myrge and English merry, altho the semantic development is obscure to me. With the Proto-Germanic *-þō suffix it became Old English myrgð "joy", and English mirth. So the pair merry/mirth was formed the same way as foul/filth, heal/health, strong/strength, slow/sloth, etc.