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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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One would think that the root word of ‘gravity’ is related to that hole we dig in the ground and put coffins into, commonly called a grave.  Both bring the sense of “down.”  And how can one miss the weight of solemn sorrow that is associated with burying a human being in the dirt?  But it turns out that etymologists have two histories for the word grave, a sort of convergent evolution: one in the sense of gravity, going back to the Proto Indo-European *gru and another in the sense of that hole in the ground, sending us back to *ghrebh.  Nearly as fascinating is the study of ‘crave’ and ‘craven.’

 

Grave (*gru) – is an adjective, arriving in English through the French, who received it from the Latin for “weighty, serious, heavy, grievous, oppressive.”  The PIE base often contains the notion of strength or force along with weight.  This is the root that ‘gravity’ traces back to.

 

Grave (*ghrebh) – is a noun, in the Old English and Old High German meaning much the same as it does today.  The Old Norse used its relative for ‘cave.’  Ultimately, the definition is derived from a sense of “to dig, to scratch, to scrape.”

 

Etymonline.com adds some trivia: “From Middle Ages to 17c., [graves] were temporary, crudely marked repositories from which the bones were removed to ossuaries after some years and the grave used for a fresh burial.”

 

Gravity – n. weight, dignity, seriousness; from Latin gravitas: “weight, heaviness, pressure.”  From the PIE *gru

 

Also from PIE *gru comes:

 

Grief – a word appearing in English since the 13th century, meaning “hardship, suffering, pain, bodily affliction” – especially one undeserved, as in the Old French grief “wrong, grievance, injustice, misfortune, calamity.”

 

Grievance – from circa A.D. 1300 the Old French grievance “harm, injury, misfortune, trouble, suffering.”  This word has referred to the cause of such a condition since the late 15th century.

 

Grievous – came with the family of words to English around A.D. 1300, once again from the Old French.  Grevos meaning “heavy, hard, toilsome.”

 

Also from PIE *gerbh (to scrape), *ghrebh (to dig), and *ghreu (to rub):

 

-graphy – “process of writing or recording” or “a writing, recording, or description.”  From the Greek meaning first “to draw” and then “to express by written characters”: originally, “to scrape, scratch (on clay tablets with a stylus).”

 

Graphe – n. “a thing written”; translated ‘scripture’ from New Testament Greek manuscripts.

 

Graven – adj. “deeply impressed; firmly fixed.  Carved; sculptured”  See Exodus 20:4: “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image,”

 

Gravel – n. “sand.”  Related to the Modern French greve which refers to the seashore or sand.  Possibly from the Celtic *gravo, and perhaps ultimately from PIE *ghreu – “to rub, grind.”

 

Grind – a verb dating back to the Old English where it was a class III strong verb: past tense grand, past participle grunden.  See PIE *ghrendh also attested in Latin frendere “to gnash the teeth” and Greek khondros “corn, grain” or Lithuanian grendu “to scrape, scratch.”

 

And now on to the “c” words, beginning with one mentioned in a definition above:

 

Carve – yet another Old English class III strong verb: past tense cearf, past participle corfen.  Meaning “to cut, slay, cut out, engrave.”  From the PIE base *gerbh

 

Craven – was used fascinatingly by JRR Tolkien in Lord of the Rings – consider all the nuance he was trying to communicate when he described a character’s words as “craven.”  This adjective comes from the French cravant, Old French crevante “defeated” from the Latin crepare “to crack, creak.”  It was most likely affected by ‘crave’ (though previously unrelated) to move from “defeated” to “cowardly” as long ago as A.D. 1400.  Some etymologists suggest that the word kept a hold on the earlier definition by justifying the shift to modern “cowardly” as a result of “confessing oneself defeated.”

 

Crave – comes from the North Germanic *krabojan “ask, implore, and especially demand by right.  The current sense “to long for” is as old as A.D. 1400, probably developed through the intermediate usage of “to ask very earnestly” in the 1300’s.  Through the mutual base sense of “power”, ‘crave’ may be related to ‘craft.’

 

Craft – a noun meaning “power, physical strength, might” especially in the older occurrences (see Proto-Germanic *krab-/*kraf- bases) but expanded in Old English to include “skill, art, science, and talent.”  These latter led to the meaning “trade, handicraft, calling.”

 

Craft – Interestingly, the verb form was obsolete for about 300 years, originally meaning “to exercise a craft, build” in the Old English, and revived in theUnited States especially, beginning in the 1950’s.

 

Craft – used as a noun for “small boat” first in the 1670’s.  May have come to use via either the trade the small boats engaged in or the seamanship required to man the vessels.

 

Thanks to:

Strong’s Concordance as found on www.BlueLetterBible.org

www.Dictionary.Reference.com

and mostly to www.EtymOnline.com

 

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

 

 

 

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Pine – from the Latin pinus = tree sap
1. Evergreens with needles and cones

or from the Greek poine = payment or punishment
2. Suffer intense longing or yearning
3. To wither through longing or grief

Besides the classical metaphor using the evergreen as an image for eternal life, I think of the richness behind pine in the season of advent, when we are told several of the characters in the nativity story (particularly in Luke’s account) were waiting expectantly for the coming of Immanuel.

Clove – from the Latin clou = nail
1. An East Indian evergreen tree
2. Spice made from dried flower buds of that tree
3. Small section of separable bulb, as garlic
4. Past tense of cleave, as in to split
5. Past tense of cleave, as in to cling

The tree buds are close together, as yet unfurled, when harvested and dried to make the spice, which tends to be ground, separated into tiny pieces to flavor our holiday feasts.  It reminds me of the Body of Christ, which is the people of God gathered together in one, but bought by the brokenness of Christ’s physical body.  Also, for this reason a man shall cleave from his mother and father and cleave to his wife.  And finally, the Israelites were not allowed to eat animals whose hooves were not cloven (which means split).  It is also good to know the third definition when reading recipes; making a soup with a whole bulb of garlic rather than a whole clove is quite a difference.
Nutmeg – from Latin nuce muscata = musky nut
1. Evergreen from the East Indies
2. The hard, aromatic seed of the tree
3. Spice made from the ground seed of the tree
Mace – from Greek makir = the Indian spice
1. spice made from the covering of the kernel of a nutmeg
or from the Latin mateola = rod, club
2. heavy medieval war club with spiked head used to crush armor
3. a ceremonial staff borne as a symbol of authority of a legislative body
Though the etymologies are completely different, the spice called mace shares a name with the rod or club.  And the Messiah was prophesied to be a ruler, represented by a rod, whose government would be just and bring peace.
Cinnamon – from the Hebrew quinnamown = name for the tree
1. Tree from tropical Asia with fragrant bark
2. A spice made from grinding the tree’s bark
So many of these spices are made from crushing the coverings, either of the living tree or of the seed.  When Jesus was crushed, it brought us life.  He, the seed of Eve and of Abraham and of David, is our covering, our atonement for sin, and when God looks at His people He sees the fragrant righteousness of Christ.
Eggnog – from egg a derivative of the Indo-European root awi- = bird, and nog- (in the sense of ale) origin unknown
1. Drink consisting of milk and beaten eggs, often mixed with rum, brandy, or wine
I absolutely love finding a word whose origin we still cannot determine.
Ale – from Indo-European root alu- = related to sorcery, magic, possession, and intoxication
1. Fermented alcoholic drink made from hops and malt, and heavier than beer
Given the Bible’s take on sorcery and on intoxication, I found this a fascinating root for a drink almost the equivalent of beer.  (The root is also found, for example, in the word hallucination.)
Gander – from Indo-European root ghans- = goose
1. Male goose
2. Half-wit, simpleton
Partridge – from Indo-European root perd- = to fart (from the sound made when a partridge is flushed…  see video)
1. Old-world plump game bird, similar to grouse or bob-white
That bird sitting atop the pear tree, his name has an interesting root.  And there’s just no good way to explain…
Twelve – from Indo-European roots twa- = two, and leikw- = leave or lend (“left over from ten”)
1. The number represented by 12 or Roman  numerals XII
For a mathematical system somewhat based on 12, isn’t it interesting that the word is just an earlier and, compared to the counting ten-based system reflected in the teens and further numbers, more mathematical word for ten and two?  I don’t know how you learned math, but I definitely learned about “borrowing” from the tens’ column in subtraction.
All definitions, etymologies, and roots summarized from the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, New College Edition © 1976 unless otherwise linked.
To God be all glory,
Lisa of Longbourn

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JRR Tolkien reported that he discovered his stories and the world of Middle Earth.  Bilbo’s complaint that Gandalf took him home from the Lonely Mountain by much too direct a route is perhaps a testimony of Tolkien’s own experience with the Hobbit and subsequently the Lord of the Rings.  Even though the legends of the elves were sprawling through Tolkien’s imagination long before either the Hobbit or the Lord of the Rings were published, we know that Lothlorien and Fangorn – and the stories swirling and marching out of them (respectively) – were unexpected developments that Tolkien met as he traveled with Frodo and his companions to the War of the Ring.

To many people, Tolkien’s description of his sub-creation is merely a metaphor for the creative process.  An idea wasn’t in mind before and then unfolds faster than we can write it or say it aloud, as though the whole were in existence before we thought of it.  But for Tolkien, there was more literal (and literary) truth to discovering his characters and stories than I would have guessed.  Especially in the Lord of the Rings, peoples and places were dynamically inspired by meditations on words.

The lore-master of Middle Earth discovered that fantastic age in the associations and nuances of English.  English being only the top level.  He didn’t just borrow an archaic term to sound old or fantastic (as so many pretentious fantasy-novelists do today).  Involved in the study was a lot of Old English, Old Norse, Germanic and even Celtic derivations.  Tolkien hoarded word-mathoms, specimens of language passed around and hidden in old literature, buried in place-names.  Believing that language bore record of a people with creativity, wisdom, and art worth recovering, Tolkien studied and meditated on this vocabulary.  Meanings all-but-forgotten, he restored them, often telling a story in which multiple definitions took living form.  Or if the meaning really was entirely lost, like the purposes of some mathoms, Tolkien upcycled them, making all new but deeply appropriate uses of obscure terms.

One of the easiest examples may be Ent.  In Tolkien’s mythology, Ents are shepherds of the trees, ancient forest-keepers.  They do many things, but most importantly they bring down the corrupted wizard, Saruman, by destroying his stone city, Isengard.  Ent comes from an old English word from which we also get the word “giant.”  The word is also associated with trolls, the large stone-people.  Giants in old mythology were credited with writing the pre-historic epics and constructing the marvelous architecture known to the medieval people only as mysterious ruins.  Tolkien pulled all of these things together in the character and origin of the Ents, and in their stone-dominating assault on Isengard.

Perhaps Lord of the Rings was so successful because Tolkien tapped our own imaginations, our nightmares and our memories, our own ways of talking about those things.  We feel that Middle Earth is part of us because it came from the same places we did.  The Hobbit was nursery-fable, not entirely devoid of the word study that made Tolkien’s other work great, but mostly a hodge-podge of mythology and adventure.  The Silmarillion studied not only the English words and Germanic epics at the root of English and American imagination, but also delved into Greek myths, and more obscure stories (like the Finnish Kaelevala).  The Elvish languages have more to do with Celtic.  All those sources were more remote than the wights and wargs and farthings and elves that resonate with the first audience of Lord of the Rings, the English.

Enormous creativity is required to make stories – especially as complex as Lord of the Rings – out of word definitions and roots.  But it also takes genius to hold so many facts and references in mind at once, seeing comparison and contrast, projecting backwards, remembering how the ancient form of the word was used in some obscure poem.  Thomas A. Shippey’s biography of Tolkien first alerted me to this aspect of his work some years ago, but The Ring of Words: Tolkien and the Oxford English Dictionary goes much farther.  A word can be a poem or a story or a mythology or just a really-neat sound.  Tolkien delighted in and brought out all of these.

For more information, look to the Letters of JRR Tolkien and the History of Middle Earth (a series of books containing early manuscripts of Middle Earth stories and also containing glossaries and word-explanations for the languages of middle earth).  I highly recommend that you pick up The Ring of Words: Tolkien and the Oxford English Dictionary by Peter Gilliver, Jeremy Marshall, and Edmund Weiner.  It contains over a hundred studies of words either invented or revived by JRR Tolkien or associated with him and his work.

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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If you ever get that craving to find treasure, just for the thrill of finding, get into words.  Open a dictionary, read the definition that catches your eye first, and ask yourself questions.  What did that one word mean in the definition?  What are the root words, and where are they from?  How is that word related to other words that sound or are spelled similarly but whose definitions you never before associated?  Is there a list of synonyms?  How are they similar to the first word?  What variations do they put on it?

If you get really interested in the hunt, pick up a book about interesting words.  There are many of them.  I have been a fan of JRR Tolkien for years, and his books contain many interesting words.  In one reading of Lord of the Rings, I kept a list.  Even if the words were familiar, I listed ones that sounded good, or that had an intriguing spelling – words that stood out.  Then I started looking up their definitions and etymologies.  There is a book I’m reading now, Ring of Words: Tolkien and the Oxford English Dictionary.  Over half of the book is word studies.

You can learn interesting things, like the history of “ent.”  It comes from old Germanic and Norse words for giants.  In those ancient days when the word was in common use, the writers attributed still older ruined cities and half-remembered mythologies to “ents.”

Or you can start wondering about words.  How is dwarf related to orcs and ogres?  To rocks?  Especially in mythology, and very intentionally in Tolkien’s myths, relations between words reflect relations between the objects they describe.  If the word “dwarf” derives from a word for “rock,” then maybe dwarves themselves come from rocks.

EVEN if you are wrong (as I often am) you’ve started your imagination on a great story.  And along the way, you’ve undoubtedly found some absorbing treasures of words and history.

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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I was having a conversation about the economy last week, and my friend was talking about how to thrive in a recession.  And I recommended thrift.  Which made me think.  Thrift and Thrive have very similar spellings.  Are they related?

Thrift – c.1300, “fact or condition of thriving,” also “prosperity, savings,” from M.E. thriven “to thrive” (see thrive), possibly infl. by O.N.þrift, variant of þrif “prosperity,” from þrifask “to thrive.” Sense of “habit of saving, economy” first recorded 1550s

Spendthrift – c.1600, from spendthrift in sense of “savings, profits, wealth.” Replaced earlier scattergood (1570s) and spend-all (1550s).

Prodigal – mid-15c., back formation from prodigiality (mid-14c.), from O.Fr. prodigalite (13c.), from L.L. prodigalitatem (nom. prodigalitas) “wastefulness,” from L. prodigus “wasteful,” from prodigere “drive away, waste,” from pro- “forth” + agere “to drive” (see act). First ref. is to prodigial son, from Vulgate L. filius prodigus (Luke xv.11-32).

(see also the American Heritage Definition #2 of Prodigal: Giving or given in abundance; lavish or profuse)

Profuse – early 15c., from L. profusus “spread out, lavish, extravagant,” lit. “poured forth,” prop. pp. of profundere “pour forth,” from pro-“forth” + fundere “to pour” (see found (2)).

Wastrel – “spendthrift, idler,” 1847, from waste (v.) with pejorative suffix (cf. mongrel, scoundrel, doggerel).

Thrive – c.1200, from O.N. þrifask “to thrive,” originally “grasp to oneself,” probably from O.N. þrifa “to clutch, grasp, grip” (cf. Swed.trifvas, Dan. trives “to thrive, flourish”), of unknown origin.

Prosper – mid-15c., from O.Fr. prosperer (14c.), from L. prosperare “cause to succeed, render happy,” from prosperus “favorable, fortunate, prosperous,” perhaps lit. “agreeable to one’s wishes,” from Old L. pro spere “according to expectation,” from pro “for” + abl. of spes “hope,” from PIE base *spei- “to flourish, succeed.”

Flourish – c.1300, “to blossom, grow,” from O.Fr. floriss-, stem of florir, from L. florere “to bloom, blossom, flower,” from flos “a flower” (seeflora). Metaphoric sense of “thrive” is mid-14c. Meaning “to brandish (a weapon)” first attested late 14c. Related: Flourished;flourishing. The noun meaning “literary or rhetorical embellishment” is from c.1600.

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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