Adventures in Etymology – Quagmire

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

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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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