Wire twists

The electricians have been rewiring my new house this week and finished today, so I thought it would be interesting to looking the etymology of the word wire.

According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, wire comes from the Old English word wir (metal drawn out into a thread), which is related to the Old Norse word viravirka (filigree work), the Swedish word vira (to twist), and the Old High German word wiara (fine gold work).

Going further back we find that the Proto-Indo-European root of wire and wir is *wei- (to turn, twist, plait). This is also the root of the Old Irish word fiar (bent, crooked – cam in Modern Irish); the Welsh word gwyr (bent, crooked); and the Latin viere (to bend, twist).

The Proto-Indo-European Etymology dictionary gives the PIE root of wire as *chislom.

There are quite a few idiomatic expressions involving wire, including:

  • the wire – another for the telephone, and the name of a TV series
  • down the wire – right up to the last moment
  • get in under the wire – to accomplish something with little time to spare
  • get one’s wires crossed – to misunderstand
  • pull wires – to exert influence behind the scenes using personal connections, etc – also ‘pull strings’
  • wire in – to set about (something, especially food) with enthusiasm (not one I’ve come across before)

Does wire feature in equivalents of these expressions in other languages, or in other idioms?

Wind eyes and eye doors

Earlier this year I decided that after many years of renting rooms, flats or houses it was time to buy my own place. After viewing quite a few houses and flats, I chose one at the beginning of May and last week I finally picked up the keys, after months of going back and forth between estate agents, solicitors, financial advisers and banks. Friends had told me of their nightmarish house-buying experiences, so I had an idea of what to expect, and while it has taken quite a long time, it all went more or less smoothly.

Some of the vocabulary used in the house-buying process includes:

  • Property – a house, flat or other dwelling
  • Viewing – to view or have a look at a property you’re thinking about buying or renting
  • Offer – a price offered by the buyer to the seller, usually via an estate agent. This is often lower than the asking price and several offers might be made before one is accepted.
  • Purchase a property – you can say you’re buying a house, but the preferred ‘official’ term is purchase a property
  • Conveyancing – the transfer of legal title of property from one person to another – this is normally what your solicitor does, though it is possible to do it yourself.
  • Searches – checks normally carried out by your solicitor on things like planning restrictions and permissions for the property you’re purchasing.
  • Gazumping – when a seller decides to reject a buyer’s offer, after initially accepting it, in favour of a higher one from someone else.
  • Exchange – when contracts for the buyer or purchaser and the seller or vendor are exchanged. Up to this point either party can withdraw from the transaction.
  • Completion – when the conveyance process is completed – normally a week or so after exchange, though in my case exchange and completion happened on the same day.

Before I move into the house next month I’m having some work done, including rewiring, replacement of windows and doors, and the installation of a new bathroom. The windows and doors man came today to measure the windows and doors that will be replaced. One word he used, reveal, mystified me at first, but I now know it is the outer side of a window or door frame or the jamb. The word jamb comes from the Late Latin gamba (leg), via the Old French jambe (pier, side post of a door).

The word window comes from the Old Norse vindauga (“wind eye”), which replaced the Old English words eagþyrl (eye-hole) and eagduru (eye-door). The word fenester, from the Latin fenestra, was also used in English until the mid 16th century.