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:

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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.

Celtic Pathways – Holding On

In this episode we’re getting to grips with words for holding and and related things.

Paimpol - Breton Dance Display

A Proto-Celtic word for to grab, seize, take or hold is *gabyeti, which comes from the Proto-Indo-European *gʰeh₁bʰ- (to grab, take) [source].

Descendents in the modern Celtic languages include:

  • gabh [ɡavʲ/ɡo(ː)] = to take, arrest, go, come in Irish
  • gabh [gav] = take, go, recite, break (in) in Scottish Gaelic
  • gow = to take in Manx
  • gafael [ˈɡavaɨ̯l/ˈɡaːvai̯l] = to hold, grasp, grip in Welsh
  • gavel = capacity, grasp in Cornish

There doesn’t appear to be a related word in Breton.

The Spanish word gavilla (sheaf, gang, band) comes from the same Proto-Celtic root, via the Late Latin gabella and the Gaulish *gabali (taking, seizure) [source].

The word gwall (large amount), and which is apparently used in the English of Cork in Ireland comes from same Celtic roots via the Irish word gabháil (catch, seizure, assumption) [source].

Words from the same PIE roots include able, debt, debit, doubt and habit in English, avere (to have) in Italian, avoir (to have) in French, and haber (to hold, possess) in Spanish [source].

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

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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].

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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.

Adventures in Etymology – Robust

In this adventure we’re untangling the ruddy roots of the word robust.

Here be trees!

Robust means:

  • Strong and healthy (of people or animals)
  • Strong and unlikely to break or fail (of objects or systems)

It comes from Latin rōbustus (oak, oaken, hard, firm, solid), from rōbur (an oak tree, hardness, strength, stronghold), from rōbus (red [esp. oxen]), from Proto-Italic *rouβos (red, ruddy, redheaded), from PIE *h₁rewdʰ- (red) [source].

Words from the same roots include red, rowan, ruby, ruddy and rust in English, rouge (red) in French, and rubor (blusing, blush, embarrassment, shame) and roble (oak, strong object/person, strength) in Spanish [source].

IMG_9879 Rufous Owl (Ninox rufa)
Rufous Owl (Ninox rufa)

The name Rufus also comes from the same roots, as does the English word rufous, which refers to a reddish brown colour, like rust. It’s mainly found in the name of birds, such as the rufous owl (Ninox rufa, a.k.a. rufous boobook), and the rufous-capped antshrike (Thamnophilus ruficapillus) [source].

Rufous-capped Antshrike - Salta - Argentina_CD5A5846
Rufous-capped antshrike (Thamnophilus ruficapillus)

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.

Celtic Pathways – Hands

In this episode we’re getting to grips with Celtic words for hand and related things.

gemeinsam

A Proto-Celtic word for hand (and palm) is *ɸlāmā, which comes from Proto-Indo-European *pl̥h₂meh₂ (palm, hand), from *pleh₂- (flat) [source].

Descendents in the modern Celtic languages include:

  • lámh [l̪ˠɑːvˠ/l̪ˠæːw] = hand, arm, handle or signature in Irish.
  • làmh [l̪ˠaːv] = hand, arm or handle in Scottish Gaelic
  • laue [læu] = hand, handful, foreleg or arm in Manx
  • llaw [ɬaːu̯] = hand; authority, possession, etc in Welsh
  • leuv [lœ:v / le:v] = hand in Cornish
  • lav [lav] = feathered hand in Breton

The usual word for hand in Breton is dorn, which is related to words for fist in the other Celtic languages. Another Breton word for hand is brec’h, which is related to words for arm in the other languages [source].

The Faroese word lámur ((seal’s) flipper, (cat’s) paw, left hand, (big) hand, left-handed person) comes from the same Proto-Celtic root, via the Old Norse lámr (hand, arm) [source].

Words from the same PIE roots include floor, palm, piano, plain and plan in English, piazza (square, plaza, market) in Italian, llano (flat, level, plain) in Spanish, παλάμη (palámi – palm, hand) in Greek, and words for floor and ground in Celtic languages [source]

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

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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.

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 – Sacred Trees

In this episode we’re exploring the roots of Celtic words for tree and related things.

Llyn Padarn

One Proto-Celtic word for tree is *belyom, which comes from Proto-Indo-European *bʰolh₃yo- (leaf), from *bʰleh₃- (blossom, flower) [source].

Descendents in the modern Celtic languages include:

  • bile [ˈbʲɪlʲə] = (large, sacred) tree, a scion or a distinguished person in Irish.
  • bile [bilə] = mast, plough, a cluster of trees, or a sacred tree or grove in Scottish Gaelic
  • billey = tree or big bush in Manx
  • pill [pɪɬ] = (tree) trunk, stock, log, branch, pole, stake, post, fortress or stronghold in Welsh.
  • bill = trunk in Breton

In Manx billey is the usual word for tree, however words for tree have other roots in the other Celtic languages: crann (Irish), craobh (Scottish Gaelic), coeden (Welsh), gwedhen (Cornish) and gwezenn (Breton). Only the Cornish and Breton words are cognate (related).

The Proto-Celtic word *belyom became *bilia [ˈbi.liaː] (tall tree) in Gaulish, which became bille (tree trunk, railway sleeper, rolling pin) and billon (a ridge in a ploughed field) in French, and possibly billa (spigot, tap, stick) in Galician [source].

Words from the same PIE roots include folio and phyllo / fil(l)o (pastry), phyllomancy (diviniation by leaves) in English, feuille (leaf, sheet) in French, and hoja (leaf, petal, blade) in Spanish [source].

You can find more details of words for trees, wood(s) and forests and related things on the Celtiadur blog. I also write about words, etymology and other language-related topics on the Omniglot Blog.

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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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Celtic Pathways – Hollow

In this episode we’re delving into Celtic words for hollow and related things.

Hollows

The Proto-Celtic word *tullos means pierced, perforated or hole, and comes from Proto-Indo-European *tewk- (to push, press, beat, pierce, perforate), from *(s)tew- (to push, hit) [source].

Descendents in the modern Celtic languages include:

  • toll [t̪ˠoːl̪ˠ] = hole, hollow, posterior, piereced, empty in Irish.
  • toll [tɔul̪ˠ] = hole, penetration, hole, hold (of a ship) in Scottish Gaelic
  • towl = aperture, bore, cavity, crater, hole, hollow in Manx
  • twll [tʊɬ] = hole, aperture, dimple, hollow, pit, cave, burrow, den, orifice in Welsh.
  • toll = burrow, hollow, hole, opening, orifice in Cornish
  • toull [ˈtulː] = holed, pierced, hole, entrance in Breton

Words from the same Proto-Celtic root in other languages include tollo (hole in the ground where hunters hide, puddle) in Spanish, toll (pool, puddle) in Catalan, and tol (ditch, dam) in Galician [source].

Words from the same PIE root possibly include tkát (to weave) in Czech, тъка [tɐˈkɤ] (to spin, plait, entwine, weave) in Bulgarian and tkać (to weave, stick, tuck) in Polish [source]. Also stoke in English, stoken (to poke, stoke, light a fire, stir up) in Dutch, and estoquer (to impale) in French [source]

You can find more details of words for hollows, holes, caves 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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Celtic Pathways – Phoney Rings

In this episode we look into the possibly Celtic roots of the word phoney, and find out how it is connected to words for ring and related things.

Irish Claddagh Ring

The Proto-Celtic word *ānniyos means ring, and comes from Proto-Indo-European *h₁eh₂no- (ring). [source].

Descendents in the modern Celtic languages include:

  • fáinne [ˈfˠɑːɲə/ˈfˠæːn̠ʲə] = ring, circle, ringlet, curl or halo in Irish.
  • fàinne [faːn̪ʲə] = ring, ringlet or circle in Scottish Gaelic
  • fainney = circle, puck, wreathe or ring in Manx

The English word phon(e)y (fraudulent, fake) possibly comes from the old slang word fawney (a finger ring, a gilt brass ring used by swindlers), from the Irish fáinne (ring) [source].

The Hiberno-English word fainne [ˈfɑnjə/ˈfɔnjə], which refers to a pin badge worn to show fluency in, or a willingness to speak Irish, also comes from the same Irish root [source]. More information about the fainne badge: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fáinne

Other words from the same PIE root, via the Latin ānus (ring, anus) include annular (ring-shaped, banded/marked with circles) and anus in English, անուր (anur – collar, oppression, yoke) in Armenian, anneau (ring) in French, and anello (ring, link) in Italian [source].

You can find more details of words for circles, rings 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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