Adventures in Etymology – Weird

In this adventure we’re unwinding the origins of the word weird.

weird sisters

As an adjective weird means:

  • Having an unusually strange character or behaviour.
  • Deviating from the normal; bizarre.
  • Of or pertaining to the Fates (archaic)
  • Connected with fate or destiny; able to influence fate (archaic)
  • Having supernatural or preternatural power (archaic)

As a noun weird means:

  • Weirdness
  • A prediction
  • That which comes to pass; a fact
  • Fate; destiny; luck (archaic)

As a verb weird means:

  • To destine; doom; change by witchcraft or sorcery.
  • To warn solemnly; adjure.

It comes from Middle English werd (fate, destiny), from Old English wyrd (fate), from Proto-West-Germanic *wurdi (fate, destiny), from Proto-Germanic *wurdiz (fate, destiny), from PIE *wert- (to turn) [source].

By the 16th century weird was obsolete in English, though it contained to be used in Scots. It was reintroduced to English by Shakespeare, who called the three witches in Macbeth the Weird Sisters.

In Scots weird means fate, fortune or destiny, and various other things, and tae dree your weird means to follow your destiny, to make what you can of your lot, or to suffer the consequences of your action [source].

Words from the same roots as weird include retain, verse, vortex and worth in English, Wert (value, worth) in German, gwerth (value, worth) in Welsh, worden (to become, get, grow, turn) in Dutch, and verða (to become, have to, must) in Icelandic [source].

I also write about words, etymology and other language-related topics on the Omniglot Blog, and I explore etymological connections between Celtic languages on the Celtiadur.

You can also listen to this podcast on: Apple Podcasts, Amazon Music, Stitcher, TuneIn, Podchaser, PlayerFM or podtail.

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Adventures in Etymology – Down

In this adventure we’re going down the rabbit hole and unearthing the origins of the word down.

Thistle Down

Down has various meanings, each of which has different roots. First let’s look at down that means ‘from a higher position to a lower one; facing downwards, to knock down; a negative aspect’, and various other things.

This comes from Middle English doun [duːn] (down), from Old English dūne (down), a form of adūne (down, downward), from ofdūne [ovˈduː.ne] (down – “of the hill”), from Proto-Germanic *dūnǭ (sand dune, hill), possibly from *dūnaz (pile, heap), from PIE *dʰewh₂- (smoke, mist, haze) [source].

Another meaning of down (especially in southern England) is a (chalk) hill, rolling grassland, a field, especially one used for horse racing, or a piece of poor, sandy hilly land near the sea covered with fine turf used mainly for grazing sheep.

This comes from Middle English doun(e) [duːn] (hill, grass-grown upland, open country), from Old English dūn (mountain, hill), from Proto-Germanic *dūnǭ (sand dune, hill), probably from Proto-Celtic *dūnom (stronghold, rampart), from PIE *duh₂-nós (lasting, durable), or from *dʰewh₂- (smoke, mist, haze) [source].

Words from the same roots include dùn (heap, fort, town) in Scottish Gaelic, dinas (city) in Welsh, town and dune in English, tuin (garden, yard) in Dutch, and Zaun (fence) in German [source].

Down can also refer to soft, fluffy feathers that grow on young birds, and that are used as insulating material in duvets, sleeping bags and jackets, and soft hairs on plants or people’s faces.

This comes from Middle English doun (soft feathers of birds, down), from Old Norse dúnn (down), from Proto-Germanic *dūnaz (pile, heap), from PIE *dʰewh₂- (smoke, mist, haze) [source].

So all the different senses of down might ultimately come from the same PIE root, but arrived in modern English via different routes. So try not to feel down when up on the downs in a down jacket because that would be a bit of a downer.

Incidentally, we used to call duvets slumberdowns in my family. I thought that was their name, but later discovered that other people have different names for them, such as duvet or continental quilt. Slumberdown is in fact the name of the company that makes them. They’re apparently called comforters or quilts in North America, doonas in Australia, and ralli quilts or razai in India and Pakistan. What do you call them? [source].

I also write about words, etymology and other language-related topics on the Omniglot Blog, and I explore etymological connections between Celtic languages on the Celtiadur.

You can also listen to this podcast on: Apple Podcasts, Amazon Music, Stitcher, TuneIn, Podchaser, PlayerFM or podtail.

If you would like to support this podcast, you can make a donation via PayPal or Patreon, or contribute to Omniglot in other ways.

Radio Omniglot podcasts are brought to you in association with Blubrry Podcast Hosting, a great place to host your podcasts. Get your first month free with the promo code omniglot.

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Celtic Pathways – Spears and Sceptres

In this episode we find out what links the words spear and beam in Celtic languages with words for sceptre and arrow in other languages.

Romano British spearmen

The Proto-Celtic word *gaisos means spear. It comes from Proto-Germanic *gaizaz [ˈɣɑi̯.zɑz] (spear, pike, javelin), from Proto-Indo-European *ǵʰoysós (throwing spear), from *ǵʰey- (to throw, impel) [source].

Descendents in the modern Celtic languages include:

  • ga [ɡa]= spear, dart, sting, ray (of light), radius, suppository or (fishing) gaff in Irish.
  • gath [gah] = dart, beam, ray (of light), sting, barb or shooting pain in Scottish Gaelic
  • goull = beam, dart or ray in Manx
  • gwayw [ɡweɨ̯.ʊ] = lance, spear, javelin, shooting pain, stab, stitch or pang in Welsh
  • guw = spear in Cornish
  • goaf = spear, pike, javelin or stamen in Breton

Words from the same Proto-Celtic root in other languages include gezi [ɡe̞.s̻i] (arrow) in Basque (via Latin and Gaulish), գայիսոն [ɡɑjiˈsɔn/kʰɑjiˈsɔn] (sceptre) in Armenian (via Ancient Greek), gaesum (a Gaulish javelin) in Latin, and γαῖσος [ɡâi̯.sos] (a Gaulish javelin) in Ancient Greek [source].

Words from the same Proto-Germanic root include garfish (any fish of the needlefish family Belonidae) in English [source], geer (spear) in Dutch, Ger (spear) in German, and keihäs (spear, javelin, pike) in Finnish, [source].

Incidentally, my surname, Ager, possibly comes from the same Proto-Germanic root as well, via the Old English name Ēadgār, from ēad (happiness, prosperity), and gār (spear) [source].

You can find more details of words for spears, javelins and related things on the Celtiadur blog. I also write about words, etymology and other language-related topics on the Omniglot Blog.

Radio Omniglot podcasts are brought to you in association with Blubrry Podcast Hosting, a great place to host your podcasts. Get your first month free with the promo code omniglot.

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Adventures in Etymology – Story

In this Adventure we’re telling tales about the origins of the word story.

In Honor of The Story Teller

A story [ˈstɔː.ɹi] is:

  • An account of real or fictional events.
  • A lie, fiction.
  • History (obsolete).

It comes from Middle English storie (story, history, quip), from Old French estoire (history, story, tale), from Latin historia [isˈtoɾja] (history, account, story), from Ancient Greek ἱστορία (historía – learning through research, narration of what is learned), from ἱστορέω (historéō – to learn through research, to inquire), from ἵστωρ (hístōr – the one who knows, the expert, the judge), from PIE *wéydtōr (knowner, wise person), from *weyd- (to see) [source].

English words from the same roots include guide, history, idea, idol, idyll, video, vision, visit, wise, wit and wizard [source].

In Old English the word for story was talu, which also meant tale, talk or account. It comes from Proto-West Germanic *talu (narration, report), from Proto-Germanic *talō (narration, report), from PIE *del- (to reckon, calculate) [source].

Words from the same roots include tale, talk and tell in English, taal (language) in Dutch, Zahl (number, numeral, figure) in German, and tala (to speak, tell, talk) in Swedish [source].

Here’s a video I made of this information:

Video made with Doodly [afflilate link].

I also write about words, etymology and other language-related topics on the Omniglot Blog, and I explore etymological connections between Celtic languages on the Celtiadur.

You can also listen to this podcast on: Apple Podcasts, Amazon Music, Stitcher, TuneIn, Podchaser, PlayerFM or podtail.

If you would like to support this podcast, you can make a donation via PayPal or Patreon, or contribute to Omniglot in other ways.

Radio Omniglot podcasts are brought to you in association with Blubrry Podcast Hosting, a great place to host your podcasts. Get your first month free with the promo code omniglot.

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Celtic Pathways – Donkeys

In this episode we’re looking into words for donkey and related beasts in Celtic languages.

Donkeys

There don’t appear to be any Proto-Celtic words for donkey. Instead, the Celtic languages borrowed words from Latin. These include:

  • asal [ˈasˠəlˠ] = ass or donkey in Irish.
  • asal [asal̪ˠ] = ass or donkey in Scottish Gaelic
  • assyl = ass or donkey in Manx
  • asyn [ˈasɨ̞n / ˈasɪn] = (male) donkey / (he-)ass, or an absurd or stubborn person in Welsh
  • asen = ass or donkey in Cornish
  • azen = donkey in Breton [source]

The Brythonic words come from the Latin asina from asinus (donkey, ass), which is of unknown origin [source]. The Goidelic words come from the same root via the Latin asellus (young ass, donkey) [source].

The English word ass (donkey) was borrowed from an old Brythonic language, via the Middle English asse (ass, donkey) and the Old English assa and assen (she-ass) [source].

Other words from the same Latin roots include asinine (foolish, obstinate, donkeyish), asinicide (the killing of an idiot) in English [source], osel (donkey, ass, stupid person) in Czech, and osioł (male donkey) in Polish [source].

Incidentally, another word for donkey in Old English was esol [ˈe.zol], which came from Proto-West Germanic *asil (donkey), from Latin asellus (young ass, donkey) [source]. Related words in other Germanic languages include ezel (donkey, ass, fool, idiot, easel) in Dutch, Esel (ass, donkey, a stupid/stubborn person) in German, and æsel (ass, donkey) in Danish [source].

The English word easel also comes from the same roots, via Dutch ezel and Proto-West Germanic *asil [source].

Radio Omniglot podcasts are brought to you in association with Blubrry Podcast Hosting, a great place to host your podcasts. Get your first month free with the promo code omniglot.

You can find more details of these words on the Celtiadur blog. I also write about words, etymology and other language-related topics on the Omniglot Blog.

Adventures in Etymology – Ship

In this Adventure we’re uncovering the origins of the word ship.

Tall ship in Copenhagen harbour

A ship [ʃɪp] is:

  • A water-borne vessel generally larger than a boat.
  • A vessel which travels through any medium other than across land, such as an airship or spaceship.
  • A sailing vessel with three or more square-rigged masts. (archaic, nautical, formal)

It comes from Middle English s(c)hip [ʃip] (ship, boat), from Old English scip [ʃip] (ship), from Proto-West-Germanic *skip (ship), from Proto-Germanic *skipą (ship), possibly from PIE *skey- (to split, dissect) which originally meant a hollowed tree [source].

Words from the same roots include skipper in English, Schipp (ship) and Schiff (ship, nave, vessel, boiler) in German, schip (ship, nave) in Dutch, skepp (ship, nave) in Swedish, and sgioba (crew, team) in Scottish Gaelic [source].

The English word skiff (a small flat-bottomed open boat) also comes from the same roots, via Middle French esquif (skiff), Old Italian schifo (small boat, dingy), and Lombardic skif (ship, boat) [source].

Incidentally, the Scots word skiff (a light, fleeting shower of rain or snow; a gust of wind; to move in a light airy manner, barely touching the ground) does not come from the same roots. Instead, it probably has onomatopoeic origins. The English word skiffle (a type of folk music made using homemade or improvised instruments) was possibly borrowed from this Scots word [source].

Here’s a video I made of this information:

Video made with Doodly [afflilate link].

I also write about words, etymology and other language-related topics on the Omniglot Blog, and I explore etymological connections between Celtic languages on the Celtiadur.

You can also listen to this podcast on: Apple Podcasts, Amazon Music, Stitcher, TuneIn, Podchaser, PlayerFM or podtail.

If you would like to support this podcast, you can make a donation via PayPal or Patreon, or contribute to Omniglot in other ways.

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Celtic Pathways – Surface and Skin

In this episode we’re looking into words for surface, skin and related things in Celtic languages.

Hippo very close

The Proto-Celtic *tondā means surface or skin and comes from the Proto-Indo-European *tend- (to cut off) [source].

Descendents in the modern Celtic language include:

  • tonn [t̪ˠɑun̪ˠ] = surface or skin in Irish.
  • tonn [tɔun̪ˠ] = skin or hide in Scottish Gaelic
  • ton [tɔn] = rind, crust, peel, turf, unploughed land or lawn in Welsh
  • ton = grass in Cornish
  • ton [tɔn] = rind or surface in Breton

There doesn’t appear to be a cognate in Manx.

The English word tonne/ton comes from the same Proto-Celtic root, via French, Latin and Gaulish [source]. Other words from the same Proto-Celtic root include tonne (tonne/ton) in French, tona (tun – a type of cask, ton/tonne) and tonya (a type of sweet bun) in Catalan, tona (surface, skin, bark) and tonel (barrel, tun) in Galician, and tonel (barrel) in Spanish [source].

Incidentally, the English word tun (a large cask, fermenting vat) probably comes from the same roots, via Middle English, Old English, Proto-Germanic, Latin and Gaulish, as does the German word Tonne (barrel, vat, tun, drum), the Dutch word ton (barrel, ton, large amount), and the Irish word tunna (cask), which was borrowed from Latin [source].
(A bit of bonus content that’s not included in the recording.)

You can find more details of these words on the Celtiadur blog. I also write about words, etymology and other language-related topics on the Omniglot Blog.

Celtic Pathways – Towns and Beehives

In this episode we’re finding out how words for towns and related things in Celtic languages are linked to words for beehives in other languages.

Trefor

The Proto-Celtic word *trebā means dwelling, and comes from the Proto-Indo-European *treb- (dwelling, settlement) [source].

Related words in the modern Celtic language include:

  • treibh [ˈtʲɾʲɛv] = house, homestead, farmstead, household, family, tribe or race in Irish.
  • treubh [treːv] = tribe, family, clan or kin, and possibly treabh [tro] = farming village in Scottish Gaelic
  • tre(f) [treː(v)] = town; town centre; dwelling(-place), habitation, residence, home; house (and surrounding land), homestead or farm in Welsh
  • tre = [trɛ:/tre:] = farmstead, home, town or village in Cornish
  • trev = town in Breton

There doesn’t appear to be a cognate word in Manx.

Words from the same Proto-Celtic root (via Latin) possibly include trobo (beehive, skep) in Galician, and truébanu (beehive, barrel, basket) in Asturian [source].

The archaic English word thorp(e) (a group of houses standing together in the country; a hamlet; a village), which appears in place names such as Milnthorpe and Scunthorpe, comes from the same PIE roots [source].

Other words from the same PIE roots include Dorf (hamlet, village, town) in German, torp (farm, cottage, croft) in Swedish, þorp (village, farm) in Icelandic, and trevë (country, region, village) in Albanian [source].

You can be find more details of words for Towns and Tribes in Celtic languages on the Celtiadur, a blog where I explore connections between Celtic languages in more depth. I also write about words, etymology and other language-related topics on the Omniglot Blog.

Adventures in Etymology – Wicker

In this Adventure we’re unravelling the origins of the word wicker.

Four little baskets sitting on a wall
Wicker [ˈwɪkə(ɹ)/ˈwɪkɚ] is:

  • A flexible branch or twig of a plant such as willow, used in weaving baskets and furniture.

It comes from Middle English wiker (wickerwork), possibly from Old Norse veikr (pliant, weak), from Proto-Germanic *waikwaz [ˈwɑi̯.kʷɑz] (weak, soft, pliable), from *wīkwaną [ˈwiː.kʷɑ.nɑ̃] (to yield, fold, retreat) from Proto-Indo-European *weyk- (to bend, curve, divide) [source].

Words from the same PIE roots include week, weak, province and cervix in English; Wechsel (change, bill of exchange) in German; växel (change, bill of exchange, switch, gear) in Swedish; fois (time) in French; and vez (time, instance, place, turn) in Spanish [source].

Incidentally, the Middle English word woke [wɔːk/wɑːk], which meant weak, feeble, helpless, unimportant or bendable, comes from the same roots, as did the word wocnesse [ˈwɔːknɛs] (vulnerability to sin or iniquity, lack of fighting skill) [source].

They are not related to the modern usage of woke, which is an abbreviation woken (up), and originated in African-American vernacular as meaning awake, conscious, alert, well-informed, especially in racial and other social justice issues. It is often used in a dergatory way about anyone who holds views that are disliked by the person using it [source].

Here’s a video I made of this information:

Video made with Doodly [afflilate link].

I also write about words, etymology and other language-related topics on the Omniglot Blog, and I explore etymological connections between Celtic languages on the Celtiadur.

You can also listen to this podcast on: Apple Podcasts, Amazon Music, Stitcher, TuneIn, Podchaser, PlayerFM or podtail.

If you would like to support this podcast, you can make a donation via PayPal or Patreon, or contribute to Omniglot in other ways.

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Celtic Pathways – Land

In this episode we’re looking into words for land and related things.

Llangwyfan church Eglwys Llangwyfan

The Proto-Celtic word *landā means (open) land, and comes from the Proto-Indo-European *lendʰ- (land, heath) [Source].

Related words in Celtic language include:

  • lann [l̪ˠaun̪ˠ] = land, ground, site; building, house, church (obsolete/archaic) in Irish
  • lann [l̪ˠaun̪ˠ] = enclosure, enclosed area, precinct; repository, house or church in Scottish Gaelic
  • lann = enclosure, habitation in Manx
  • llan [ɬan] = (parish) church, monastery, heaven, churchyard, enclosure or yard in Welsh
  • lann [lan] = yard in Cornish
  • lann = moor, heath or moorland in Breton

Words from the same Proto-Celtic root, via Gaulish and Latin, include lande (moor, moorland, heath) in French, landa (a (sandy) plain) in Spanish, landa (country, field, piece of land) in Basque [source].

The (archaic) English word laund [lɔːnd] (a grassy plain or pasture, especially one surround by woodland; a glade) possibly comes from the same Proto-Celtic root, via Middle English, Old French, Latin and Gaulish, or from the Proto-Germanic *landą (land), which comes from the same PIE root [Source].

Other words from the same PIE root include land in English, land (land, country) in Dutch, Land (country, state, province, land) in German, land (land, country, nation, state, ground, earth) in Swedish, lado (uncultivated, wild land) in Czech and ледина [ˈlɛdina] (untilled land) in Macedonian [source].

Incidentally, the new theme tune is one I wrote recently called the Tower of Cats. You can here the whole of it on Instagram.

You can be find more details of words for Land, parishes and enclosures in Celtic languages on the Celtiadur, a blog where I explore connections between Celtic languages in more depth. I also write about words, etymology and other language-related topics on the Omniglot Blog.