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.

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Adventures in Etymology – Crotchet (♩)

In this adventure we investigate the origins of the word crotchet and related things.

Crotchet

A crotchet [ˈkɹɒtʃ.ɪt] is:

  • A musical note one beat long in 4/4 time (♩), also known as a quarter note in the USA
  • A forked support or crotch
  • A square bracket []

Historically it meant:

  • A sharp curve or crook; a shape resembling a hook
  • A hook-shaped instrument
  • A whim or a fancy.

It comes from Middle English crochet (hook, crook, hooked staff), from Old French crochet (small hook) from croc (hook, hook-shaped weapon), from Frankish *krōk- (hook), or Old Norse krókr (hook), from Proto-Germanic *krōkaz (hook) [source].

Words from the same roots include crochet and crook in English, crúca (hook, crook, clutch, claw) in Irish, and crochet (hook, square bracket, fang) and croche (quaver / eighth note) in French [source].

The musical note was apparently called a crotchet because it had a small hook on its stem in old musical notation. In modern notation it’s the quaver (eighth note) that has the hook (a.k.a. tail) ♪.

Incidentally, quaver comes from Middle English quaven, cwaiven (to tremble), from Old English *cwifer, which is probably related to cwic (alive, living, intelligent, keen) [source].

Here’s an example of some crotchets, quavers and other musical notes in action in a tune I wrote a few years ago called Dancing on Custard played by me on the harp:

You can find a score for it on MuseScore – this is not exactly the same as the recording.

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 – 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.

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Celtic Pathways – Cream

In this episode we look into the Celtic roots of the word cream.

Chocolate Cream Pie

Cream comes from Middle English cre(i)me (cream, chrism [a mixture of oil and balsam]), from Old French cresme (cream), from Late Latin crāmum (cream), probably from Gaulish *crama, from Proto-Celtic *krammen (skin), from Proto-Indo-European (s)krama- [source].

Descendents in the modern Celtic languages possibly include:

  • screamh = a deposit on surface, coating, crust, scum in Irish.
  • sgrath [sɡrah] = bark, husk, peel, skin, crust in Scottish Gaelic
  • scrooig = crust, incrustation, scab, slime, scale in Manx
  • cramen [ˈkramɛn] = scab, sore, boil, crust, layer in Welsh
  • kragh = scab in Cornish
  • kramm = grime, filth in Breton

Other words from the same Proto-Celtic root include crème (cream, cool) in French, schram (scratch, scrape, graze) in Dutch, and creme (cream [coloured]) in German.

Incidentally, the Old English word for cream was rēam [ræ͜ɑːm], which comes from Proto-Germanic *raumaz (skin, film, cream), from PIE *réwgʰmn̥ (cream). A descendent of this word, ream, is apparently still used for cream in English dialects in northern England [source], and in Scots [source].

You can find more details of words for beaks, snouts 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 – Busk

In this Adventure we investigate the origins of the word busk.

Clanadonia

Busk [bʌsk] means:

  • To solicit money by entertaining the public in the street or in public transport.
  • To sell articles such as obscene books in public houses etc. (obsolete)
  • To tack, cruise about (nautical)

It possibly comes from French busquer (to seek, prowl, filch, busk), from Old Spanish buscar/boscar (to look for, to collect wood), from Vulgar Latin *buscum (wood), from Frankish *busk (wood), from Proto-Germanic *buskaz (bush, thicket) from PIE *bʰuH- (to be, become, grow) [source].

Words from the same roots include (to) be, bower, neighbour and future in English, boer (farmer, peasant) and buur (neighbour) in Dutch, and verbs meaning to be in most Indo-European languages [source]

There are several homophones/homographs of busk with different meanings. For example, there is busk that refers to to a strip of metal, whalebone, wood, or other material, worn in the front of a corset to stiffen it, and by extension, a corset. This comes from French busc (busk [of corset]), from Italian busco (splinter), probably from Frankish *busk (wood) [source].

Then there is busk that means to prepare, make ready, array, dress, or to go or direct one’s course. It’s used in northern England and Scotland and comes from Middle English busken (to prepare, get ready, arrange), from Old Norse būask, from būa (to prepare, make, live, dress, decorate), from Proto-Germanic *būaną (to dwell, reside), from PIE *bʰuH- (to be, become, grow) [source].

So it seems that even though these words have different meanings, they possibly all come from the same PIE root (*bʰuH-).

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 – Fire

In this Adventure we look into the origins of the word fire.

Up Helly Aa Fire Festival, Lerwick, Shetland

Fire [ˈfaɪ.ə/ˈfaɪ.əɹ] is:

  • A (usually self-sustaining) chemical reaction involving the bonding of oxygen with carbon or other fuel, with the production of heat and the presence of flame or smouldering.
  • An instance of this chemical reaction, especially when intentionally created and maintained in a specific location to a useful end (such as a campfire or a hearth fire)

It comes from Middle English fyr [fiːr] (fire), from Old English fȳr [fyːr] (fire), from Proto-West-Germanic *fuir (fire), from Proto-Germanic *fōr [ˈɸɔːr] (fire), from PIE *péh₂wr̥ (fire, spelt [grain]) [source].

Words from the same roots include furze, purge, pyre and pyromania in English, vuur [vyːr] (fire, heater) in Dutch, fyr [fyːr] (lighthouse, fire) in Swedish, and fyr [fyɐ̯ˀ] (lighthouse, radio beacon, boiler, fire, light) in Danish [source]

There are in fact two PIE words for fire *péh₂wr̥ (fire as something inanimate, passive and neuter), and *h₁n̥gʷnis (fire as something animate, active and masculine). The latter is the root of English words like ignite (to set fire to), igneous (resembling fire, produced by great heat, e.g. igneous rocks), and ignipotent (presiding over fire, fiery – poetic) [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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Adventures in Etymology – Chair

In this Adventure we’re taking a seat to uncover the origins of the word chair.

Three Chairs

A chair [t͡ʃɛə(ɹ)/t͡ʃɛɚ] is:

  • An item of furniture used to sit on or in, comprising a seat, legs or wheels, back, and sometimes arm rests, for use by one person.

It comes from Middle English chayer/chaier(e) [ˈtʃɛi̯ər(ə)] (a comfortable seat, such as a chair or couch; a throne), from Old French chaiere (chair, seat, throne) from Latin cathedra [ˈka.tʰe.dra] (armchair, ceremonial chair, office/rank of a teacher or bishop, pulpit, chair), from Ancient Greek καθέδρα [kaˈθe.ðra] (seat, posterior, base of a column, imperial throne), from κατά [kaˈta] (down) and ἕδρα [ˈe.ðra] (seat, chair, stool, bench), from PIE *sed- (to sit) [source].

English words from the same roots include cathedra (the chair or throne of a bishop, the rank of bishop), cathedral, catastrophe, cataract and chaise (an open, horse-drawn carriage for one or two people).

Words from the same roots in other languages include cadair (chair), and cadeirlan (cathedral) in Welsh, cathaoir (chair, seat, throne) in Irish [source], and words for cathedral in many other languages [source]

The native English words for chair or seat were stool and settle. When chayer was borrowed from French their meanings changed: stool came to mean “A seat, especially for one person and without armrests.” [source], and settle, which originally meant a seat of any kind, came to mean “A long bench with a high back and arms, often with a chest or storage space underneath” [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 – Hogging Sockets

In this episode we find out what links the words hog and socket with words for pig, ploughshare and related things in Celtic languages.

Family of Feral Hogs

The Proto-Celtic word sukkos means a pig (snout) or ploughshare, presumably because ploughshares looked like pig’s snouts. It comes from the Proto-Indo-European *súH-s (pig, hog, swine) [source]

Descendents in the modern Celtic languages include:

  • soc [sˠɔk] = sow in Irish.
  • soc [sɔxg] = beak, snout, socket, ploughshare, or a short, chubby person in Scottish Gaelic
  • sock = bow, nose, snout, ploughshare, jet or nozzle in Manx
  • hwch [huːχ] = sow, pig, swine, or a dirty creature in Welsh
  • hogh = hog, pig or swine in Cornish
  • houc’h = sow in Breton

Words from the same Proto-Celtic root in other languages include socket and possibly hog in English, and soc (ploughshare) in French.

The word socket comes from the Middle English soket, from the Anglo-Norman soket (spearhead), from the Old French soc (ploughshare), from the Vulgar Latin *soccus, from the Proto-Celtic *sokkos, probably via Gaulish [source].

The word hog comes from the Middle English hog(ge) (pig, swine, pig meat, hogget [young sheep]), from the Old English hogg (hog), either the Old Norse hǫggva (to hew), or from the Proto-Brythonic *hux (pig) [source].

The English word hoggan (a pork pasty), which is used mainly in Cornwall, probably comes from the Old Cornish hoggan/hogen) (pork pasty, pie), from hoch (pig), from the Proto-Brythonic *hux (pig). The word oggy/oggie (pasty), which is used in Devon and Cornwall, and also in Wales, comes from the same roots [source].

Welsh oggies are larger than Cornish pasties and contain lamb, potatoes and leeks. Here’s a recipe.

Oggie

Incidentally, the Welsh words hogyn (boy) and hogen (girl), which are used mainly in North Wales, come from hòg (young/little boy, youth, lad, fellow), from the English hogg (young sheep or hogget), from the Middle English hogget (a boar/sheep of the second year), from Anglo-Norman hog(g)et (young boar) and an Anglo-Latin hogettus [source].

You can find more details of words for pig and related beasts 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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Celtic Pathways – Truant

In this episode we find out what links the word truant with words for beggar, wretch and related things in Celtic and other languages.

Begging

Truant [ˈtɹʊənt/ˈtɹuː.ənt] means:

  • Absent without permission, especially from school.
  • Wandering from business or duty; straying; loitering; idle, and shirking duty
  • One who is absent without permission, especially from school.

It comes from Middle English truant/truand (one who receives alms, a begger, vagabond, vagrant, scoundrel, rogue, shiftless or good-for-nothing fellow) from Old French truand (vagabond, beggar, rogue), either from Gaulish *trugan (wretch), or from Breton truant (beggar), possibly from Proto-Indo-European *terh₁- (to rub, turn, drill, pierce) [source].

Related words in the modern Celtic languages include:

  • trua [t̪ˠɾˠuə] = pity, sympathy, compassion, miserable person or wretch in Irish.
  • truaghan [truəɣan] = poor soul, poor thing or wretch in Scottish Gaelic
  • truanagh = miserable, mournful or sorrowful person in Manx
  • truan = wretch, miserable person; wretched, miserable, pathetic, poor or weak in Welsh
  • truan = sad, miserable, unfortunate or wretched in Cornish
  • truant = beggar in Breton

Other words from the same Proto-Celtic root include truand [tʁy.ɑ̃] (crook, gangster, beggar) in French [source], truhan [tɾuˈan] (scoundrel, scammer, swindler, rogue, crook, [historically] jester, buffoon) in Spanish, truão (jester) in Portuguese, and trogo (jester) in Galician [source].

Incidentally, words for truant in Celtic languages include: fánach in Irish, air falach in Scottish Gaelic, truggan in Manx, and triwant in Welsh.

What do you call the action of playing truant?

For me its skiving (off) and when you do it, you’re a skiver.

Here’s a video I made of this information:

Video made with Doodly [afflilate link].

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.

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 – Friend

In this Adventure we find out what links the word friend with words like afraid, free and Friday.

The winning quiz team

A friend [fɹɛnd] is:

  • A person, typically someone other than a family member, spouse or lover, whose company one enjoys and towards whom one feels affection.
  • A person with whom one is vaguely or indirectly acquainted.

It comes from Middle English fre(e)nd [freːnd] (A friend or compatriot; a close associate; A patron, philanthropist, or supporter; A family member; one of one’s kin), from Old English frēond [fre͜oːnd] (friend, lover) from Proto-West-Germanic *friund (friend), from Proto-Germanic *frijōndz (friend, loved one), from PIE *preyH- (to love, to please) [source].

English words from the same roots include afraid, free, proper and possibly Friday [source].

Friday? It comes from Old English frīġedæġ [ˈfriː.jeˌdæj] (Friday), from Proto-Western-Germanic *Frījā dag (Friday, “Frigg’s day”), a calque of the Latin diēs Veneris (Friday, “day of Venus”). Frījā/Frigg was the Norse goddess of love, and associated with the Roman goddess Venus. Her name possibly comes from Proto-Germanic *frijōną (to love, free, like), from *frijaz (free), from PIE *priHós (dear, beloved, happy, free), from *preyH- (to love, to please) [source].

So you could say that Friday is the day of freedom, or friendship or love, or all three. Whichever you prefer.

Incidentally, the second syllables of the names Geoffrey/Jeffrey, Godfrey, Siegfried and Winfred come ultimately from PIE *preyH- as well [source]. However, the name Winifred comes from Welsh Gwenfrewi, from gwen (white, fair, blessed) and ffrwd (brook, stream) [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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