Tuesday, 22 February 2011

etymology woo

I'm a big fan of comic book writer Grant Morrison. Ever since I read Doom Patrol twenty years ago I've been hooked on his chaotic, eclectic style. I love his superheroes-fighting-in-the-sky-like-fireworks version of the JLA, and The Invisibles is the greatest thing ever. So I was interested in the talk he did with Deepak Chopra at Comic-con 2006, on "the seven spiritual laws of superheroes". Unfortunately, I only made it about three minutes in before Chopra said something that annoyed me:

The word myth in English comes from or is related to the word mother. Myth, mother, mater, meter, matter, time, music, mata, matrika, measurement, they're all the same word. They refer to the womb of creation.

He says the same thing on the twitter. It's completely untrue, but what bugs me more is that it's so easily checked. Take the Online Etymology Dictionary, a free online reference - it isn't authoritative but it's a very good place to start if you want to check things like this. The words mother, Latin māter "mother", Sanskrit māta and mātr̥kā "mother", and possibly matter are related to each other, from Proto-Indo-European *māter-. The words measure and meter are related to each other, from Proto-Indo-European *meh₁-. music is from *men- to think". time is from *deh₂- "to divide". The origin of myth is unknown.

I guess I know how this guy feels when Chopra says something silly about genetics or medicine.

chukker and palindrome


Gussie, you see, wasn't like some of my pals--the name of Bingo Little is one that springs to the lips--who, if turned down by a girl, would simply say, "Well, bung-oh!" and toddle off quite happily to find another. He was so manifestly a bird who, having failed to score in the first chukker, would turn the thing up and spend the rest of his life brooding over his newts and growing long grey whiskers, like one of those chaps you read about in novels, who live in the great white house you can just see over there through the trees and shut themselves off from the world and have pained faces.
- PG Wodehouse, Right Ho, Jeeves

chukker/chucker/chukka is given in the OED as a polo term - it's like a period in hockey. But it seems it was first applied to the circular discus used for quoits. The word was borrowed from Hindi चक्कर cakkar "potter's wheel, catherine wheel, discus or sharp circular missile weapon". This is cognate with Sanskrit चक्र cakra "wheel", from Proto-Indo-European *kʷel(H)- "to turn".

It is from this word that the chukka boot comes.


*kʷel(H)- is the source of cycle from Greek (but not circle and circus). If the AHD is to be believed, the suffixed zero-grade *kʷl̥H-i- became Greek πάλιν "again" from the sense of "revolving". palindrome is from Hellenistic Greek παλίνδρομος "running back again" (δρόμος "running, course, racecourse").

My favourite palindrome is "Satan, oscillate my metallic sonatas".

Friday, 11 February 2011

funky and thyme

The words funky "mouldy, old, musty; smelling strong or bad" and funk "a strong smell" were used in the 30s to refer to things that were satisfying or approved of - in other words "swinging, hip". Then in the 50s they came to be applied to a musical genre.

funk "a strong smell" is from funk "to blow smoke upon (a person)", which was probably borrowed in the late 1600s from Old French funkier/fungier "to smoke". This is from Latin fūmigāre "to smoke (of a candle)", from fūmus "smoke" (OED). fūmus is from Proto-Indo-European *dhuh₂-mo-, the zero-grade of *dheuh₂-, a root meaning "to rise in a cloud, as dust, vapour, or smoke", among other meanings (AHD). (Altho the AHD equivocates about the laryngeal, Fortson in Indo-European Language and Culture says it's *h₂.)

According to the AHD, *dhuh₂-mo- became Greek θύμον "thyme", from the sense "plant having a strong smell". This was borrowed into Latin as thymum and English as thyme. However, the OED says θύμον is from θύω "to burn sacrifice" - which could still be from *dheuh₂- maybe.

Thursday, 10 February 2011

holistic and whole

… are wholly unrelated.

holistic is borrowed from Greek ὅλος "whole" (as in catholic) from Proto-Indo-European *solh₂- "whole".

whole is from Old English hāl from PIE *kailo- "whole, uninjured, of good omen". Also from this root are German Heil "health" and Irish Gaelic cel "omen".

whole began to be spelled with wh in the fifteenth century, apparently due to a dialectical pronunciation with /w/. It also happened with whore.

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

geyser and fondue

Proto-Indo-European *ǵheu- "to pour, pour a libation". The extended form *ǵheus- became Old Norse geysa "to gush". Geysir is the name of a particular Icelandic hot spring, which is where the English word comes from.

In Latin the nasalized zero-grade *ǵhu-n-d- became fundō/fundere "to pour", becoming French fondre "to melt". The past participle fondue was applied to a dish of melted cheese.

In Greek the suffixed zero-grade *ǵhus-mo- became χῡμός "juice", borrowed into English as chyme.

Watkins in The American Heritage Dictionary of Proto-Indo-European Roots suggests that the verbal adjective *ǵhu-to- "poured" might be the source of Proto-Germanic *ǥuđam and English god. *ǵhu-to- is found in Greek χυτη γαια "poured earth", referring to a burial mound. Perhaps the Proto-Germanic use of *ǥuđam was also in connection with a burial mound, in which case it could plausibly come to mean god. god is usually supposed to come from *gheu(H)- "to call, invoke".