Adventures in Etymology – Shambling Shambles

In this Adventure in Etymology we’re looking into the origins of the word shamble (and shambles).

Shambles
The Shambles in York

To shamble means to walk while shuffling or dragging the feet, and a shamble is one of a succession of niches or platforms, one above another, to hold ore which is thrown successively from platform to platform, and thus raised to a higher level in a mine.

It comes from Middle English schamel / schambyll [ˈʃaːməl] (footstool), from Old English sċamol [ˈʃɑ.mol] (stool), from Proto-West Germanic *skamil (stool, bench), from Latin scabellum (footstool, a kind of percussion instrument played with the foot), from scamnum (stool, step, bench, ridge), from PIE *skabʰ- (to hold up) [source].

Words from the same roots include scanno (seat, bench, stool) in Italian, escano (bench, footstool) in Portuguese, scaun (chair, seat, stool, throne, residence, butcher’s block) in Romanian, Schemel (footstool) in German, and iskemle (chair) in Turkish [source].

In the plural, shambles means a scene of great disorder or ruin, a great mess or clutter, a scene of bloodshed, carnage or devastation, or a slaughterhouse, and it used to mean a butcher’s shop. It comes from the same roots as the singular shamble [source].

There’s a street in York in the north of England called The Shambles (see the photo above), that was once home to many butchers. They originally displayed their wares on stalls or benches known as shamels or schambylls, which gave the street its name. There are several similarly-named streets in other parts of the UK and Ireland [source].

Incidentally, a German equivalent of shamble is schlurfen [ˈʃlʊɐ̯fn̩], which means to shuffle (walk without picking up one’s feet). It’s related to the English word slurp [source].

Now it’s time to shamble off. I made a bit of an omnishambles of this post – I wrote most of it, then accidentally deleted half of it and had to rewrite it as I couldn’t retrieve the lost bits. I hope it’s not too shambolic.

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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 blog.

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Adventures in Etymology – Quagmire

In this Adventure in Etymology we’re looking into the origins of the word quagmire.

quagmire

A quagmire [ˈkwɒɡ.maɪər/ˈkwæɡ.maɪr] is:

  • A swampy, soggy area of ground.
  • A perilous, mixed up and troubled situation; a hopeless tangle.
  • To embroil (a person, etc.) in complexity or difficulty.

The quag part is an obsolete English word meaning quagmire, marsh or bog, from Middle English quabbe (marsh, bog), from Old English cwabba (that which shakes or trembles, something soft and flabby) [source].

The mire part comes from Middle English mire (marshy or swampy land), from Old Norse mýrr (moor, swamp, bog), from Proto-Germanic *miuzijō (bog, swamp, moor), from PIE *mews-yeh₂, from *mews- (moss) [source].

The English word quaggy/quoggy (marshy, soft, flabby) is related to quag, and the Dutch words kwab (a weak, blubbery mass), kwebbelen (to chatter) come and kwebbelkous (chatterbox) from the same roots [source].

Words from the same roots as mire include moss and mousse and moist in English, mos (moss, lichen) in Dutch, Moos (moss, bog, fen, marsh) in German, and mýri (marsh, swamp, bog) in Icelandic [source].

You can also listen to this podcast on: Apple Podcasts, Amazon Music, TuneIn, Podchaser, Podbay or Podtail and other pod places.

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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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 blog.

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Adventures in Etymology – Storm

In this Adventure in Etymology we’re stirring up the origins of the word storm, as it’s been quite stormful (abounding in storms, stormy) here in the UK recently.

lightning-storm

A storm [stɔːm/stɔɹm] is:

  • an extreme weather condition with very strong wind, heavy rain, and often thunder and lightning
  • A heavy expulsion or fall of things
  • A violent agitation of human society [source]

It comes from Middle English storm (storm, dispute, brawl, fight), from Old English storm (storm), from Proto-West-Germanic *sturm (storm), from Proto-Germanic *sturmaz (storm), from PIE *(s)twerH- (to stir up, agitate, urge on, propel) [source]

Words from the same roots include steer, stir, turbine, turbulence and turbo in English, turba (mob) in Spanish, torma (crowd, throng) in Italian, and twrf (disturbance, tumult) in Welsh [source].

Incidentally, stormful means abounding with storms or stormy, and when the weather is stormful, you might be bestormed (overtaken with a storm, assailed with storms), stormbound (caught in a storm) or stormtossed (tossed by the wind in a storm), so make sure everything is stormworthy (fit for weathering a storm) and stormproof (capable of resisting a storm).

Here’s a stormy little song called Thunder Vengeance by Lovebites, one of my favourite Japanese bands:

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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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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 blog.

Adventures in Etymology – Virus

In this adventure, we’re examining the origins of the word virus, because I seem to have picked up a bit of coronavirus 😷 this week, or possibly last week. I’m feeling better now, at the time of writing this, but not completely yet.

Virus VIH

A virus is:

  • A submicroscopic infectious agent that replicates only inside the living cells of an organism.
  • A type of malware that, when executed, replicates itself by modifying other computer programs and inserting its own code into those programs.

It comes from Middle English virus (virus), from Latin vīrus (poison, venom, bitterness, sharpness, slime), from Proto-Italic *weizos (poison), from PIE *wisós (poison, slime) [source].

Words from the same PIE roots include ιός [iˈos] (virus, [historical] poison, venom) in Greek, from which comes the English word iodine, and विष [ʋɪʃ] (poison, venom) in Hindi, bisa (poison) in Malay and ពិស (pɨh – poison, toxin, venom, infection, disease) in Khmer [source].

So like a virus, the word virus, and related words, have spread around the world to many different places and languages.

Incidentally, the Old English word for virus was wyrms/worms [wyrˠms], which also meant pus or corrupt matter*. Its origins are lost in the mists of time, perhaps consumed by a virus or worms. It’s probably unrelated to wyrm (worm, maggot, grub, snake, dragon 🐉) [source].

*You might notice that in the recording I say manner instead of matter. Just ignore it. It doesn’t matter 🤦

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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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.

Adventures in Etymology – Finger

In this adventure, we’re poking the origins of the word finger.

fingers

A finger is:

  • A slender jointed extremity of the human hand, (often) exclusive of the thumb.
  • Similar or similar-looking extremities in other animals.

It comes from Middle English fynger (finger, toes), from Old English finger (finger), from Proto-West-Germanic *fingr (finger), from Proto-Germanic *fingraz [ˈɸiŋ.ɡrɑz] (finger), probably from PIE *penkʷrós, from *pénkʷe (five) [source].

Words from the same Proto-Germanic roots include vinger (finger) in Dutch, Finger (finger) in German, and finger (finger) in Danish, Norwegian and Swedish [source].

Words from the same PIE roots include five, fist, pentagon (and other words beginning with penta-) in English, and words for five in most Indo-European languages [source]

Incidentally, the name of the Roman town of Pompeii, which was destroyed in an eruption of Vesuvius in AD 79, also comes from the same roots, via the Oscan word 𐌐𐌖𐌌𐌐𐌄 (pumpe – five), a reference to its five districts [source].

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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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.

Adventures in Etymology – Bone

In this adventure we’re uncovering the origins of the word bone.

Bones

A bone is:

  • A composite material consisting largely of calcium phosphate and collagen and making up the skeleton of most vertebrates.
  • Any of the components of an endoskeleton, made of bone.

It comes from Middle English bon (bone), from Old English bān [bɑːn] (bone, ivory), from Proto-Germanic bainą [ˈbɑi̯.nɑ̃] (leg, bone), from *bainaz [ˈbɑi̯.nɑz] (straight), from PIE *bʰeyh₂- (to hit, strike, hew, cut) [source].

Words from the same roots include been (leg, limb, side) in Dutch, Bein (leg) in German, ben (leg, bone, sinecure) in Danish, bít (to beat, fight) in Czech, and buain (harvest, reap, cut) in Scottish Gaelic [source].

Incidentally, in Old English a poetic way to refer to the body was bānhūs [ˈbɑːnˌhuːs] (“bone house”). It was also called a sāwolhūs [ˈsɑː.welˌhuːs] (“soul house”) or feorhhūs [ˈfe͜orˠxˌhuːs] (“life/soul house”) [source].

Here’s a song in Scottish Gaelic about cutting the bracken (buain na rainich) called ‘Tha mi sgìth’ (I’m tired), sung by Brian Ó hEadhra:

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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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.

Adventures in Etymology – Ghost

In this adventure we’re uncovering the origins of the word ghost.

Ghosts

A ghost is:

  • The disembodied soul; the soul or spirit of a deceased person; a spirit appearing after death
  • Any faint shadowy semblance; an unsubstantial image.

It comes from Middle English gost (angel, devil, spirit, the Holy Ghost), from Old English gāst [ɡɑːst] (spirit, ghost, breath, demon), from Proto-West-Germanic *gaist (ghost, spirit), from Proto-Germanic *gaistaz (terror, fear, spirit, ghost, mind), from PIE *ǵʰéysd-os, from *ǵʰeysd- (anger, agitation) [source].

Words from the same roots include geisa (to rage, storm) in Icelandic, gast (ghost) in Swedish, geest (ghost spirit, mind) in Dutch and ghastly and poltergeist in English, [source].

Incidentally, the h in ghost mysteriously materialised, a bit like a ghost, in the Prologue to William Caxton’s Royal Book, printed in 1484, in a reference to the ‘Holy Ghoost’. It was probably his assistant, Wynkyn de Worde, who was responsible, and who was influenced by Flemish word gheest (ghost) [source].

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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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.

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.

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Adventures in Etymology – Twilight

In this adventure we investigate the origins of the word twilight.

Kent Estuary from Arnside

Twilight [ˈtwaɪˌlaɪt] means:

  • The soft light in the sky seen before the rising and (especially) after the setting of the sun, occasioned by the illumination of the earth’s atmosphere by the direct rays of the sun and their reflection on the earth.
  • The time when this light is visible; the period between daylight and darkness

It comes from Middle English twilight (twilight), from twi- (double, half) and li(g)ht (light), which ultimately come from PIE *dwi- (two, double), and *lewk- (light). So twilight means ‘second/half light’ [source].

There are three different kinds of twilight: astronomical twilight, civil twilight and nautical twilight [source]. The difference between them involves how far the sun is below the horizon [source]

Twilight is also known as the blue hour, a calque of the French term heure bleue as the sky become a deep blue during twilight. [source].

In French it is also known as entre chien et loup (“between dog and wolf”) – a calque of the Latin inter canem et lupum, which means the same thing – because at twilight the difference between a dog and a wolf is not clear. [source].

Another word for twilight, used in northern England and Scotland, is gloaming, from Old English glōm (gloom, twilight, darkness) [source].

The prefix twi- appears in other English words, although few are currently used. They include: twifaced (having two faces, deceitful), twithought (a vague, uncertain or indistinct thought, doubt), twi-tongued (having two tongues, deceitful), and twi-minded (double-minded, uncertain, doubtful) [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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