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Archive for the ‘etymology’ Category

I was writing the word “stationary” the other day, and wondering like always whether I was spelling the correct word. Then I had a brilliant idea: look up its etymology. I made a guess at the etymology of the

paper kind, that its root is “stationer” and that it came from the note paper, schedule books, tickets that train station clerks used. I tried to think whether “-ary” can be a suffix that means “pertaining to this thing”: “glossary”, “granary”, “planetary” – I can see it.

So. Research results trump speculation:

stationery (n.) 1727, from stationery wares (c. 1680) “articles sold by a stationer,” from stationer “seller of books and paper” (q.v.) + -y (1).

stationer (n.) “book-dealer, seller of books and paper,” early 14c. (late 13c. as a surname), from Medieval Latin stationarius “tradesman who sells from a station or shop,” noun use of Latin stationarius (see stationary). Roving peddlers were the norm in the Middle Ages; sellers with a fixed location often were bookshops licensed by universities; hence the word acquired a more specific sense than its etymological one.

compared to

stationary (adj.) late 14c., “having no apparent motion” (in reference to planets), from Middle French stationnaire “motionless” and directly from Latin stationarius, from the stem of statio “a standing, post, job, position” (see station (n.)). Meaning “unmovable” is from 1620s. In classical Latin, stationarius is recorded only in the sense “of a military station;” the word for “stationary, steady” being statarius.

-ary (adjective and noun word-forming element) in most cases from Latin -arius, -aria, -arium “connected with, pertaining to; the man engaged in,” from PIE relational adjective suffix *-yo- “of or belonging to.” The neuter of the adjectives in Latin also were often used as nouns (solarium “sundial,” vivarium, honorarium, etc.). It appears in words borrowed from Latin in Middle English. In later borrowings from Latin to French, it became -aire and passed into Middle English as -arie, subsequently -ary.

I don’t think I’ll ever again forget the proper spelling for each.

All etymologies found and copied from www.EtymOnline.com

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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Donkey – Who hasn’t heard of Mary riding into Bethlehem on a donkey?  Well, before the late 1700’s, no one had.  This word entered our language as slang (ironic since it replaced the word ass, which has come to have quite the list of its own slang definitions since).  Donkey is perhaps a diminutive (smaller or junior version) term for a dun, a small horse. The word dun is an old color word meaning “dull grey-brown”.

 

Ass – Is one of the few words classified as cussing, swearing, profane, or generally “bad” that I will speak, as it is found in the Old King James Bible, and also in “What Child is This?”  Etymologists seem to agree that this name for the animal comes from the Middle East.  Whether the name comes from the word meaning “strong” and a sense of stubbornness or docile patience, or if that word derived from the beast’s behavior, I can’t tell, but they do seem to be related.

 

Oxen – Beside the ass in “What Child Is This?” we find an ox kneeling at the Lord’s manger.  Our language’s history is replete with plurals formed by adding –en, but according to the Online Etymology Dictionary, this is the only true continuous survival of such a plural into Modern English.  As best I can tell, the early origins of this animal name refer to the male, and mean “to sprinkle”, referring to their fertility.  In some religions, the gods of fertile fields are pictured as bulls or oxen, for this reason. I think the Proto-Indo-European root, *uks-en-, and the Sanskrit attestation, uksa, sound like yak, but no one else has seemed to notice, except the Edenics researchers, who cite Sanskrit gayal; Hebrew ‘agol, “calf”, from a sense of “round” or “going around”; and Hebrew aqqow, translated “wild goat” in KJV, and from a root meaning “to groan” – which I will note is indicative of hard work, which oxen and yaks are more wont to do than goats.

 

Sheep – The animals actually appearing in the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ birth are sheep.  While Scandinavian languages use a word like faar for “sheep”, and Gothic languages use relatives of lamb, and other Indo-European words are similar to ewe, our word sheep has been in the Germanic family for a while.  Wiktionary hints that sheep may be from the same root as shave – referring to the importance of the animal’s sheered wool?  We use the same word for one sheep or many, but in Old Northumbrian, the plural is scipo.

 

Lamb – After consulting multiple etymology dictionaries, and none of them having any insight into the sense of the word lamb, I checked the Edenics sites.  Edenics is somewhat appealing to me in that it credits meaning to sound and spelling, and does a good job compiling words with similar spellings and intriguing analogies in meanings.  They don’t do such a good job tracing transitional words through history in literature, leaving them in a different category from traditional etymologists.  So.  Lekhem is, in Hebrew, “bread, food, flesh” – possibly from a root meaning “to make war”.  It may be a stretch, but by Ezra’s time, Aramaic had ‘immar for “lamb”, the root maybe indicating “something that is called or brought forth, progeny”.  Because L’s and R’s can shift in pronunciations, it is even possible that this and the Hebrew word for wool, tsemer (think Merino) could be related to lamb: swap out the R for the L and reverse the order.  Arabic lahm means “meat”.  Dutch lichaam is “body”.  Finnish has a word for an animal (a sheep?), lammas.  Is this the source of llama, or is it related to our next Christmas animal, the camel?

 

Camel – Traditionally, three wise men arrive in the Christmas story with their caravan of camels bearing gifts to the star-heralded King.  Camel comes from Hebrew gamal (which is even the name of one of their letters), and might be related to Arabic jamala, “to bear”.  Some Edenics writers think that llamas, as the primary beast of burden in South America, may trace their name from a similar source.

 

Besides the animals appearing in the Christian story of the Incarnation, our traditions have come to include several other animals in the seasonal festivities.

 

Reindeer – In some languages, rein or its equivalents stand alone as the word for this animal.  It seems to have to do with the impressive growth of horns on their heads.  The suggested root is PIE base *ker- which would associate it with the Greek for ram, krios.

 

Deer – Before the 1400’s, this word just meant “animal”, a word distinguishing creatures from humans, usually applied only to wild animals.  Its origins are from words that have to do with breathing, thus separating this class of creation out from life which has no breath (a rather biblical concept).  This same thought-pattern is said to have given us the word animal from Latin animus (“breath”).

 

Polar bearPole is from Latin polus, Greek polos, “pivot, axis of a sphere”.  Some say it is from a root meaning “turn round” and having to do with concepts of turning, rolling, and wheels.  An etymology I find less likely suggests a root meaning “stake”, “to nail or fasten”.

 

Bear is one of the most interesting etymologies.  Most etymologists say that it is named for the color brown, which makes it kind of funny that we apply it to so many similar creatures – by class like polar bears, or appearance like koalas and pandas – that have different colors!  Beaver is also said to derive its name from the same color root, *bher-.  And a Greek cognate, phrynos, meaning “brown animal”, applies to toads!

 

An alternative etymology for bear is one that relates it to words meaning “wild”, like Latin ferus.  The Proto-Indo-European root would then be *ǵʰwer-.  If you follow Edenics, you might be interested in their similar etymology of bear (and boar) to roots B-R, F-R, and P-R all associated with wilderness and lawlessness – the outskirts of civilization.

 

Bears are classically associated with the poles (which are also on the outskirts of civilization, unless you heed the rumors about an elvish toy workshop), especially the north, because of the constellation Ursa Major.  Ursa is from the Latin for bear.  The Greek for bear is arktos, from whence we get our word arctic.
Boar – There is a carol introduced to me by Archibald Asparagus from Veggie Tales, called “The Boar’s Head Carol”.  Apparently it is also on Josh Garrels’ new Christmas album.  It’s the only reason I know to connect boars with Christmas, and it is probably more accurately derived from Yule traditions, but I can’t have mere boring things like sheep and donkeys in my list!  The origin of this word is unclear, probably because, like most animal names, for a very long time it has just referred to the creature we know by this name.  All sorts of Germanic peoples have basically called it the same thing.  One not-well established hypothesis associates this word with Lithuanian baĩsas , “terrible apparition” and Old Church Slavonic běsŭ, “demon”.  As I mentioned above, it might actually come from a word meaning “wild”.  Demons are also rebels, exiles from the holy forces of God, and capable of appearing as “terrible apparitions”.  Boars, apart from any spiritual creepiness, are pretty terrifying themselves.  I think of the kid from Old Yeller hiding in a tree while ravenous wild pigs bite at his leg.

 

Goose – In the old days, goose was a favorite Christmas entrée.  Before goose, it was gos, like gosling, and before that it was gans, like gander.  The theory is that gans and similar words for geese and swans in other languages are imitative of the honking these birds make.

 

Puppy – Finally, puppies have begun to appear under Christmas trees with big red bows around their necks, calculated to bless the hearts of small children. The word came into our language in the late 15th Century, applied to a woman’s small pet dog, instead of the larger and fiercer breeds kept by men for shepherding or hunting.  In the Middle French, whence we get the word, it was a toy or a doll, sharing its ancestry with puppet.  Original root words had to do with children and smallness.

 

Credits to

The Online Etymology Dictionary

Wiktionary

Edenics

 

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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One afternoon, years ago, I was watching an old Cary Grant movie.  His name was Noah.  People kept saying it.  I listened, and it kept striking me as such an odd name.  No-uh?  What is that name?  (Sometimes my brain doesn’t work right.)  After an hour or so, it struck me that Noah is not only one of the most famous men in history (he built an ark), but also the name of one of my cousins.

But, you know, sometimes things just strike you in a way they never have before, and they feel all new and mysterious.  That’s part of what I love about etymology: discovering hidden depths in words and phrases I’ve known all my life.  The latest phrase to catch my fancy was “by and large”, spoken innocently in a radio interview, and arousing my curiosity.

Of course I know what it means.  I perfectly understood the man on the radio.  We use it to mean “generally” or “in most cases”.  But while I could get kind of a picture of either “by” or “large” used for that sense – we do use “largely” to mean almost the same thing – I couldn’t see why they were together.  To the internet!
Online, I discovered a most interesting history for the phrase.  A more vivid rendering of this metaphor would be “against and with the wind, still able to move forward”.  The idiom is a sailing term, from the fact that, by shifting the angles of your (triangular) sails to almost-parallel (by) and then your (square-rigged) sails almost-perpendicular (large) to the wind, a ship can progress even when the wind is blowing opposite of the direction they want to go.  According to the American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms, “By the early 1700s the term had been broadened to mean ‘in one direction and another,’ whence its present meaning of ‘in general.’ “
This is not a very technical description of the 17th-century nautical techniques, but it is beautiful.  When I hear “large” in this context now, I picture a big sheet puffed full with a breeze.  And “by” makes me think of a hand to a rudder or wheel, playing a dance with the wind to keep it just barely pushing them forward, maybe a bit off course, but soon to be balanced by a little shift a bit to the other side of straight.
To God be all glory,
Lisa of Longbourn

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Why does “vacuum” have two u’s, IN A ROW?  It’s a weird word.  But, looking at another double-u word might help our understanding: “continuum”.  This totally makes me think of the bad guy we love to hate, and his immortal omnipotent (sort of) race in Star Trek, the Q.  Not to be confused with the “collective”, which is Borg.  Anyway.  We actually use a recognizable root of “continuum”, so it is easier to see that the last “um” is a suffix to indicate something about word forms.  To quote Matthew Lancey on Quora.com, “Double U was/is fairly common in Latin because of its complex system of word endings to indicate case, gender and so on.”

So.  “Continue” (back in Latin spelled “continuare“) becomes “continuum” when the verb becomes a noun*, and “vacare” or something like it becomes “vacuus” (adjective?) and “vacuum” (noun?) in Latin.  Etymology Online says that the word is probably a loan-translation from the Greek “kenon” which only slightly resembles “vacare“, “vain”, or “vacuus” – all of which are attested words in the family tree of “vacuum”.  We had the great idea back in the 17th century English speaking world of spelling “vacuus” as “vacuous”, which is clearer on the pronunciation and only slightly less obviously Latin.

A lot of sources online (really reliable ones like Yahoo Answers) say that there are two u’s because how else would you know to pronounce two different vowel sounds there?  But, um, I don’t really think that’s how words work.  These people are either gullible, or bluffing the Internet looking for the gullible.

What I really want to know is why there is only one “c”.  If there are ever seemingly pointless double consonants in words, it tempts me to double other lletterrs also. (“Embarrass”, anyone? There are two doubles, and I spell it wrong the first time, every time.) Just saying.  Though I must say that if the “c” were a “k” like it should be, for some reason I wouldn’t feel the need to double it in the same way.  But then, the vowel’s pronunciation would bother me.  And if we insist on leaving only one “c” in our English transliteration, could we pronounce the “a” as a long “a” like in “bacon”?  Or maybe we could try “bacoon”, “baakon”, “bakun”, “bacconn”?

*In my life, I am much more tempted to turn nouns into verbs.  I imagine this is historically predominant, also.  Therefore, when I am keeping my tone intentionally casual, I say things like “churching”, “small-group-ing”, “dishes-ing”.  Verbs are a lot more fun, if they have a description built into them.  My preschool-teacher-friend also says that kids initially think much more in pictures than in words, so it is good if we can keep our speech so vividly picturey.

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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I was thinking the other day about the word found, and how it can mean “discovered” and also “begin, lay the base”.  So I decided to search the etymologies, primarily using www.EtymOnline.com and supplementing with other dictionaries available online such as the Webster’s 1828.

Found, as in “lay the base” is from the Latin for “bottom”.  It shares a root with fund, which entered English meaning “bottom, foundation, groundwork” and quickly came to mean “stock of available money” by the 1690’s.  It is theorized that the PIE root, *bhudh- is also the source of Old English botm – and maybe even the Hebrew for “build”, banahBuild, in English, is supposed to come through the Germanic for “home, building” from a PIE root, *bhu- “to dwell,” from root *bheue- “to be, exist, grow”.

In Old English, the word timbran was preferred to communicate “to build”, but it died out and primarily remained in our word timber from PIE *deme- “to build,” possibly from root *dem- “house, household” (source of Greek domos, Latin domus; and of our words: domestic and domain and don).

The derivative verb, founder, is less encouraging that the verb found – the latter meaning “to establish” but the former meaning “to collapse” or “to sink to the bottom”.

Another sense of found, as in foundry, means to “cast metal”, originally “to mix, mingle” from the Latin fundere “melt, cast, pour out” from the PIE *gheu- “to pour”, cognate with guts “bowels, entrails”, gutter, gush, and geyser.

The noun fountain comes from the Old French fontaine, “natural spring” from the Latin fontanus “of a spring” and fons “spring (of water)”.  The proposed PIE is *dhen- (1) “to run, flow”.

Find, my original curiosity for the day, is from the Proto-Germanic *finthan “to come upon, discover”.  Before that, it comes, we think, from PIE *pent- “to tread, go” as in pedestrian and path and pontoon.  Isn’t that lovely imagery?

But isn’t it curious how these such similar words are thought to have independent etymologies?  It makes me wonder how well-attested the published etymologies are, or could there be alternatives that are more united?

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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A friend recently asked me what are my family’s traditions for Christmas.  Besides a formal meal, we also purchase and decorate a Christmas tree, the latter usually to the backdrop of nostalgic Christmas songs and candlelight.  But the most familiar tradition, even an oft-lamented one in our materialism-saturated society, is the exchanging of gifts.  But I am convinced there is nothing inherently wicked with either the getting or the giving of presents.

Gift and give are newer forms of a presumed old, old root, the Proto-Indo-European (PIE) *ghabh- meaning “to give or receive”.  Before it reached English, it appeared in the Old Norse with a definition “gift, good luck”.  For a while it was pronounced yiven, before the guttural ‘g’ resurfaced.  An initial ‘h’ sound is also associated with the root, developing into the somewhat opposite word have.  Isn’t it interesting that giving and receiving are so closely linked that they’re all mixed up with the same family of words?

Present specifically carries the notion of something offered, freely, but before it is received.  It is set in the presence of one, placed “before their face”.

The word receive has a more Latin than Germanic heritage, entering English c. 1300, about 200 years after the Norman French conquest of England, from the Old North French, meaning at that time “seize, take hold of, accept”.  I like the emphasis on the fact that a gift cannot simply be thrust on someone; the action is interactive, with the receiver willingly taking the gift.  In earlier forms, found in Latin, the word meant “regain, take back, recover, take in, or admit”.  There’s a sense of vengeance contrasted with the sense of hospitality.

Hospitality is, in Greek, xenia, especially referring to the “rights of a guest or stranger”.  There is a city in Ohio named for this word.  I think that is a lovely motto of which to be reminded every time one’s city is mentioned.  It is not so much seen in our country as in many other nations, including the Israelite tribe whose generosity to the poor and stranger in the land was mandated by the Mosaic Law (see also this passage).

Hospitality is also a French/Latin borrowing, also since the 1300’s.  It comes from a word meaning “friendliness to guests”.  Compare this to the word host, whose entry at Etymonline.com goes further than the longer form hospitalityHost goes back to the PIE *ghostis- which is supposed to have referred to both the host and the guest, with an original sense of referring to strangers, on whichever side.

In the 1993 movie, “Shadowlands”, based on the life of C.S. Lewis, there is a scene about Christmas in which he is discussing the fate of the season in their mid-century culture:

One [Inkling] laments, “I’m afraid Christmas, as I remember it, is rather a lost cause.”

Jack, as his friends call him, and sounding rather like his voice is echoing out of far-away winter-bound Narnia whispers, “It’s because we’ve lost the magic… You tell people it’s about taking care of the poor and needy, and naturally they don’t even miss it.”

To which his friend, a Roman Catholic priest, responds, “The needy do come into it: ‘no room at the inn,’ remember?  The mother and child?”

I do like to remember that.  I like that older songs remember that.  I like that my friend this year asked for suggestions of how to make our holiday reflect the truth of this verse, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich.” She wanted to know how to celebrate being made rich and to imitate Christ’s poverty-bearing, rich-making love.

There is a tradition of being charitable particularly at Christmas.  (This is in the line of other, biblical feast-days, during which kindness to the poor was encouraged in response to God’s blessings of abundance that were being celebrated, especially in the harvest-feasts of Firstfruits and Tabernacles.  It is a way to recognize that it is God’s undeserved blessing that provides enough to survive or feast.  If we, by pleasing Him, do not relinquish His grace, we are to expect His continued blessings.  And He is pleased when we remember the poor and have charity towards them.  We can give like the saints in Philippi, depleting our own storehouses, knowing that the God who is using us to care for the poor will faithfully provide for us as well.)

This responsibility to the poor is communicated by the history of the word generous, which originally meant “of noble birth” (same root as genus, referring to biological descent and classification into kinds or races or families) and only by implications of the duty, of those blessed with more, to share with those who have less did it come to mean “magnanimous”.

Benevolence, “disposition to do good”, is a compound word, from the Latin bene “well” and volantem “to wish”.

Alms is another term for this benevolence.   In Old English it was ælmesse, occurring also in German, and Latin, where it is spelled eleemosyna.  This was, in turn, borrowed from the Greek eleemosyne, referring to “pity, mercy”.  In modern English, though rare, it means a gift, especially of money or food, given out to the needy.

Charity is from the Old French, “charity, mercy, compassion; alms” from Latin, “costliness, esteem, affection”.  Isn’t it instructive, the impulse of expressing love by costly, sacrificial giving?  It can be satisfying, and blessed, to give.

Love is, by own definition, the giving of a treasure.  Treasure comes from the same Greek root as thesaurus, and it means “hoard, storehouse, treasury” – presumably of something worth enough to be collected and kept safe.  Can stores be shared?  What does it say when one is willing to disperse a hoard?

Donation is attested in Latin, donum, “gift”, from the PIE *donum.  The same word is found in Sanskrit: danam “offering, present” and in Old Irish dan, “gift, endowment, talent”.

In my family’s tradition, the focus is more on expressing love to one another than to those less fortunate.  Our gifts are an exchange, late 1300’s, “act of reciprocal giving and receiving”, from the Latin ex- “out” and cambire “barter”.  Cambire is supposed to be of Celtic origin, the PIE *kemb- “to bend”, developing in the sense of altering the current state, then specifically changing something by putting something else in its place.

At Christmas especially, the packages under the tree are almost always wrapped, so as to be a surprise.  Unexpectedly, this word used to mean only “a taking unawares; unexpected attack or capture”.  The roots are sur- “over” and prendre “to take, grasp, seize”.  It might be ironic that though we think of thinly cloaked gifts as surprises, at Christmas they are not always unforeseen or unexpected; who hasn’t made a Christmas wish list?  In fact, it is perhaps a disadvantage of our custom: that gifts come to be expected, or even demanded, by the recipients.

When the word wrap appeared in English around AD 1300, it meant “to wind, cover, conceal, bind up, swaddle”.  I think we do this to increase the ornamental feeling of festivity, not as a symbol of the baby Jesus being similarly wrapped before being placed in a manger.

Swaddle seems to come from a word meaning a slice or strip.

Ribbon, which often adorns our gifts, might have a similar historic meaning, if it is related to band, “a flat strip” and “something that binds”, a rejoining of two divergent threads of Middle English, distinguished at one point by different spellings, band referring to joining together and bande to a strip or even a stripe (where it likely morphed into ribane, a stripe in a material).  The original root of band is, PIE *bendh- “to bind”.

Something else we use to hold things together when we’re wrapping them?  Tape.  My cousin says, “tape, lots of tape.”  This Old English tæppe is a “narrow strip of cloth used for tying or measuring”.  It could be formed from the Latin for “cloth, carpet”, tapete, or it might be related to the Middle Low German tapen, “to pull, pluck, tear”.

(These words are so fun, the way they communicate the action by which the thing got to be – or the state that inspired and enabled an action.  What was life like for the people who named a strip of fabric tape?  Well, maybe they were pulling on cloth {reminiscent of one of my favorite Christmas movies, “Little Women”, where the ladies of the house spend time tearing old sheets into strips to be used as bandages for those soldiers wounded in the American Civil War}.  Why would they do that?  To have something with which to bind things together.  It’s a different world from our manufacturing-driven lifestyles, where tape and ribbon and string are purchased in packages off of shelves.  They’re things made originally for their purposes, not improvised from something else.  It’s like a history lesson in a word!)

The other reason we think of gifts during the holiday season in which we remember God’s entry into our world in human flesh is because His birth was honored by gifts from wise visitors from the East.  These men recognized that Jesus was born to be the King, the long-prophesied King of the everlasting kingdom.  And though this God-King could have turned stones into bread, and summoned armies of angels, He chose to experience poverty.  Though He experienced the lowliness of being born to a poor mother and living as a refugee, a stranger, in Egypt, he was honored by costly gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh when a very young boy.

Such is the nature not only of love, to give sacrificially, but also of worship.  How remiss would any of us be, to overlook the presence of the Highest King?  Not only is His worth expressed by Kings giving Him treasures; it is demonstrated by the “sacrifice of praise” every person can offer:  The Christmas carols sing that the wise men have “come to pay Him homage,” Old French “allegiance or respect for one’s feudal lord”, from Latin homo, “man”.  Or in “What Child Is This?” we are bid to “haste, haste, to bring Him laud”, also Old French, “praise, extol” from Latin laus, “praise, fame, glory”.  A cognate, or brother-word in Old English was leoð, “song, poem, hymn”.  He is worthy of the richest treasures.  We owe Him everything we have, everything that is.  We also owe Him our allegiance, our praise, our songs.

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

Many thanks and credit to the resources of www.Etymonline.com and www.Dictionary.Reference.com in compiling these definitions and histories.  Also to www.BlueLetterBible.org for Scriptures.

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Bell Etymologies

This Christmas I’ve been thinking of bells.  Wearing jingle bells reminds me quickly of the season.  Hearing “sleigh bells” conjures nostalgic stories.  The Polar Express is memorable to me for the beautiful silver bell and its mystical note.  Most of our words for the sound a bell makes are imitative, but what other associations do common bell-words have?

 

Bell” comes from the Old English, belle, a word not found in Germanic languages outside of the North Sea family of dialects.   Happily, the phonology traces from Proto-Indo-European base *bhel- “to sound, roar.”

 

One of the most common words used to describe what we do with bells is “ring”, descended straight from the Old English hringan, supposed to come from Proto Germanic *khrenganan (similar words are found in Old Norse, Swedish, and Middle Dutch).  Etymologists believe the word was originally imitative, but isn’t it interesting then that we find it in the Germanic and Norse languages, but it isn’t a root attested in languages all over the world?  Didn’t other people have bells?  What sound did theirs make?

 

Perhaps their bells “jingled” – a word existing in English since the late 14th century at least: gingeln.  We’re familiar with the famous winter tune, “Jingle Bells.”

 

Tinkle”, “to make a gentle ringing sound,” may be more likely to bring to mind the bell-voice of the fairy in Peter Pan, but ever since the late 1300’s, we have used it to express what we hear from a bell.

 

Chime” can be a word for the instrument (which better suits the history of the word’s meaning) or the event of its sounding.  Circa 1300 either Latin or Old French bestowed “chime” on our English tongues, and we most likely misinterpreted it as chymbe bellen “chime bells,” a sense attested from the mid-15th century.

 

Bells also “peal” – a word generally considered a shortened form of appeal, with the notion of a bell that “summons” people to church. This, according to the scholars behind http://www.EtymOnline.com, is not entirely convincing, but no better theory has been put forth. Extended sense of “loud ringing of bells” is first recorded 1510s. The verb is 1630s, from the noun.

 

I’m rather intrigued that such a delightful thought as “trolling bells” is the same word as a legendary sort of ogre or monster.  The verb sense comes from the Old French, troller, which was a hunting term meaning “wander, to go in quest of game without purpose” and in this unusual case, the French received this word from the German peoples.  Old High German has trollen “to walk with short steps,” and the root goes back to Proto Germanic *truzlanan.  Ever since its arrival to English in the late 1300’s, troll has meant “to go about, stroll” or “roll from side to side, trundle.”  In modern usage, its association with bells comes through the sense of “singing in a full, rolling voice” first attested in the 1570’s.

 

Toll” is even more common than troll.  Meaning “to sound with single strokes,” it was probably a special use of tollen “to draw, lure,” a Middle English variant of Old English  –tyllan in betyllan “to lure, decoy,” and fortyllan “draw away, seduce,” of obscure origin. The notion is perhaps of “luring” people to church with the sound of the bells, or of “drawing” on the bell rope.

 

Who knew that “clock” would show up here?  However, since the word has to do with time, and so does the Christmas season (think Advent), here goes.  Originally “clock with bells,” probably from Middle Dutch, from Old North French cloque, from Middle Latin (7th century) clocca, probably from Celtic! In Welsh and Old Irish the word only meant “bell.”  It is thought that it was spread by Irish missionaries (unless the Celtic words are from Latin); ultimately of imitative origin. “Clock” replaced Old English’s dægmæl, from dæg “day” + mæl “measure, mark.” The Latin word for timekeeping was horologium; the Greeks used a water-clock (klepsydra, literally “water thief”).

 

Finally, what would be bells without a tower in which to ring?  “Belfry” was originally, circa1400, a “siege tower” but early (1200’s) in Anglo-Latin already had a sense “bell tower.”  In Old North French it meant “movable siege tower.”  Compare to Modern French beffroi, from Middle High Germanic bercfrit “protecting shelter.  Literally this oldest known ancestor meant “that which watches over peace,” from bergen “to protect” (see bury?!) + frid “peace.” The first sense, a wooden siege tower on wheels (“free” to move), came to be used for chime towers (mid-15th century), which at first often were detached from church buildings (as the Campanile on Plaza San Marco in Venice). Etymologists suspect the spelling to have been thence altered by dissimilation or by association with bell.

 

Thanks entirely to www.EtymOnline.com for the word histories.

 

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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