Adventures in Etymology – Telling Tales

In today’s Adventure in Etymology we’re telling tales about the origins of the word tale.

Telling Tales

A tale [teɪl] is:

  • a narrative that relates the details of some real or imaginary event, incident, or case; story
  • a literary composition having the form of such a narrative
  • a falsehood; lie
  • a rumor or piece of gossip, often malicious or untrue

It used to mean:

  • number, tally, quota
  • account, estimation, regard, heed
  • speech, language
  • a speech, a statement, talk, conversation, discourse
  • a count, declaration

It comes from the Middle English tale [ˈtaːl(ə)] (personal narrative, account), from the Old English talu [ˈtɑ.lu] (account, reckoning, tale, narration) from the Proto-West Germanic *talu (narration, report, assessment, judgement, calculation, counting), from the Proto-Germanic *talō (narration, report), from the PIE *dol-éh₂ (reckoning, calculation, fraud), from *del- (to reckon, calculate) [source].

Some words from the same Proto-Germanic root include tell in English, taal [taːl] (language) in Dutch and Afrikaans, Zahl [tsaːl] (number, numeral, figure) in German, tala [ˈtʰaːla] (a speech, button, number) in Icelandic, tala [ˈtɑːˌla] (to speak, tell, talk) in Swedish, and tale [ˈtˢæːlə] (speech, talk, discourse; to speak, talk) in Danish [source].

Here’s a video I made of this information:

Video made with Doodly – an easy-to-use animated video creator [affiliate link].

Here’s a silly little ditty I wrote in 2019 called Tall Tales:

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.

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