Thursday, May 25, 2006

Carnival of the Etymologies

[A regular Thursday feature of "Done With Mirrors"]

Look! Words! Words in pairs! Do the pairs share?

Sorry, the wife and I were looking at Dr. Seuss books the other day.

Guess if these modern English words are related. Click to see the answers.

1. tavern/tabernacle

2. garble/garbage

3. fort/fortitude

4. doubt/double

5. guest/host

6. macaroon/macaroni

7. walnut/Welsh

8. fair (adj.)/fair (n.)

9. space/species

10. trail/entrails


Tavern came into English in the 13th century from French, where the word originally had the broader sense of "shed made of boards, booth, stall." Bot the "wine shop, inn" sense and the "shed" sense were in the Latin original, taberna.

A diminutive form of the Latin word, tabernaculum, was used to mean "tent," especially "a tent of an augur" (for taking observations). It thus became the Biblical word in medieval French for the portable sanctuary carried by the Israelites in the wilderness, and later the Temple in Jerusalem (which continued its function). English inherited these sense in the word tabernacle.


Even though both words first appeared in English within a few years of one another in the early 15th century.

Garble comes from Medieval Latin and Italian garbellare, which come from Arabic gharbala "to sift and select spices," a word related to kirbal "sieve." It was one of the commercial words that circulated among traders in the lingua franca of the medieval Levant.

The Arabic word itself ultimately may be from Latin cribellum, a diminutive of cribrum "sieve."

Garbage originally meant "giblets of a fowl, waste parts of an animal," though it later was confused with garble in its sense of "siftings, refuse." Many Middle English cookery terms came from Anglo-French, so perhaps it is related to Old French jarbage "a bundle of sheaves, entrails," from Proto-Germanic *garba-, from Proto-Indo-European *ghrebh- "a handful, a grasp."


Fort is Late Latin fortia, from the neuter plural of Latin fortis "strong." From that adjective, the Romans made an agent noun, fortitudo "strength," which is the root of fortitude, a word now used mostly in a metaphoric sense.


Doubt turns up in English c.1225, from Old French douter, from Latin dubitare "hesitate, waver in opinion" (related to dubius "uncertain"). This word originally meant "to have to choose between two things."

The root of it, therefore is duo "two," which also is the root of Latin duplus "twofold," Whch passed into Old French as duble and Middle English as double.

The connection of "two" and "doubt" also existed in the Germanic languages. In fact, the Old English word that was superseded by doubt was tweogan (noun twynung), from tweon "two," on notion of "of two minds." German Zweifel "doubt" is from zwei "two."

The -b- in doubt was restored in the 14th century by scribes who knew their Latin better than they respected their English.


The Proto-Indo-European root behind both is *ghostis which essentially meant "strange." The word's development seems to reflect ancient social customs among the Indo-Europeans (and preserved by many modern peoples) where a "stranger" who wanders into a community was entitled to hospitality.

Another sense is preserved in the alternate sense of Old English gæst (the root of guest), which was "enemy."

Host "person who receives guests" comes from the Latin form of the root, hospitem (nominative hospes), literally "lord of strangers" (hosti-potis). Latin hostis, however, took on a more negative sense of "stranger, enemy," and yielded modern words such as hostile.

The root took a similar forked path in Old Slavic, where gosti meant "guest, friend" and gospodi meant "lord, master."


Macaroni is a southern Italian dialect word (a form of Italian maccheroni), the plural of an unrecorded *maccarone, which possibly os from maccare "bruise, batter, crush," or from late Greek makaria "food made from barley."

Macaroon "small sweet cake consisting largely of ground almonds" is from 16th century French macaron, the French form of Italian macaroni. The French meaning is said to have been invented in 1552 by Rabelais, probably based on a resemblance of the color of the two foods.

Both words enteres English in Shakespeare's day. The -oon ending was conventional in 15th to 17th century English to add emphasis to borrowings of French nouns ending in stressed -on.

Macaroni was used after c.1764 to mean "fop, dandy" (hence the "Yankee Doodle" reference) because it was an exotic dish at a time when certain young men who had traveled the continent were affecting French and Italian fashions and accents. There is said to have been a Macaroni Club in Britain, which was the immediate source of the term.


The root of both is the Anglo-Saxon word wealh "foreign."

Welsh is Old English Wilisc, from Wealh the word the Anglo-Saxons applied to all the people's they found in the British Isles when they invaded in the 5th century: Celts, Britons, Welshmen.

In fact it was the common Germanic word for "non-Germanic foreigner," also applied to speakers of Latin. In Old High German, Walh, Walah meant "Celt," but also "Roman, Gaulish," and Old Norse Valir means "Gauls, Frenchmen" (hence Danish vælsk "Italian, French, southern").

The word itself ultimately is Celtic; the ancient Germanic people evidently took it from the Celtic tribal name represented by Latin Volcæ, which is recorded in Caesar's writings as the name of an ancient Celtic tribe in southern Gaul.

The word has fallen from use in English, but it survives in Wales, Cornwall, Walloon, walnut, and in surnames Walsh and Wallace. The Slavs borrowed it from the Germans as vlachu, and applied it to the Romanians (who are non-Slavic), hence Walachia.

The walnut (Old English walhnutu) is this literally "the nut of the foreign tree," so called because it was introduced from Gaul and Italy, and to distinguish it from the native hazel nut. The Late Latin name for it was nux Gallica, literally "Gaulish nut."


Fair (adj.) is Old English fæger "beautiful, pleasant," a common Germanic word derived from the Proto-Indo-European root *fag-. The meaning in reference to weather (c.1205) preserves the original sense (opposed to foul). Sense of "light complexioned" (1551) reflects tastes in beauty; sense of "free from bias" (c.1340) evolved from another early meaning, "morally pure, unblemished" (c.1175). The sporting senses (fair ball, fair catch, etc.) began in 1856.

The noun fair developed from Old French feire, from Latin feriæ "religious festival, holiday, a word related to festus "festive, joyful, merry," the root of feast.


Space crossed over to English from French c.1300 with a meaning "an area, extent, expanse, lapse of time." The word is descended from Latin spatium "room, area, distance, stretch of time," a word of unknown origin. The astronomical sense of "stellar depths" is first recorded in 1667 in "Paradise Lost."

"Space isn't remote at all. It's only an hour's drive away if your car could go straight upwards." [Sir Fred Hoyle, "London Observer," 1979]

Species was first used in 1551, as a classification in logic, from Latin species "kind, sort," originally "appearance, sight, a seeing," a word related to specere "to look at, to see, behold."

It comes from the Proto-Indo-European root *spek- "to observe," which also yielded Latin scopus "aim, target, watcher;" Sanskrit spasati "sees;" Avestan spasyeiti "spies;" Greek skopein "behold, look, consider," skeptesthai "to look at;" Old High German spehhon "to spy," German spähen "to spy."


Trail comes from Old French trailler "to tow," ultimately from Vulgar Latin *tragulare "to drag," which probably is related to trahere "to pull" (source of traction and tractor).

Entrails comes from Late Latin intralia "inward parts, intestines," from Latin interanea, the neuter plural of interaneus "internal," from inter "between, among."