Wednesday, 28 July 2010
narwhal and nudnik
Proto-Indo-European *neh₂u- "death; to be exhausted" became Proto-Germanic *nāw-i- "corpse" and Old Norse nár "corpse" (AHD). Narwhal is borrowed from Danish narhval, from Old Norse náhvalr. It's thought that the Old Norse word is from nár plus hvalr "whale" with reference to the deathly colour of its skin. Or it could be from nál "needle". The presence of the r in the modern Scandinavian forms is unexplained (since the Old Norse word didn't have it), but it could have been added by folk etymological association with nár "corpse" (OED).
The Old Norse nár is cognate with the second element of Old English orcnēas "evil spirits, walking corpses". It's also cognate with need, but that's another story.
Nudnik "a pestering, nagging, or irritating person; a bore" is borrowed from Yiddish נודניק nudnik, which is from nudyen "to bore", borrowed from Polish nudzić "to bore" or Russian нудить "to wear out (with complaints)". Both of these are from Proto-Slavic *naud-ā- from *neh₂u- (AHD).