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Posts Tagged ‘etymology’

Money has been in the English language since the 13th century, courtesy of Old French carrying it to us from Latin. In Latin, it was originally a surname of the Roman goddess, Juno: Moneta. Coins were minted (also a similar etymology) outside the temple of Juno. Other forms of currency were included in the term in the early 1800’s.

In 1699, John Locke first applied the word currency to economics. As opposed to a barter system, where goods are directly traded for each other, the use of money allows for more liquidity. This increases the flow of trade, thus the root word, “current” as in a stream.

Tender is on the federal reserve notes in the United States. It means “to offer”, and by association with the idea of extending the hand, ultimately shares the same Latin root as the word tendon. The word gained formality when in English in the 1540’s, and became used for “money legally offered as payment” in 1740.

A “note” was originally more like an IOU, then a check. These were called promissory notes, a piece of paper on which was written a promise for a specified sum to be paid to a designated person. When a bank printed official slips promising amounts of money to be withdrawn from their treasury, they were called banknotes. The Federal Reserve, that prints our bills in the United States, is a bank – not a branch of the government – so technically, our paper money are banknotes.

When I think of the phrase “dollar bill,” I imagine a slip of paper, rectangular, of a certain size, and printed to look like money. The word bill is most often used as a piece of a transaction with delayed payment. The bill tells how much is owed, and when. It is a demand for payment. The dollar bill is also an order for payment: it is an order to the issuing bank to pay out the value of the bill to the holder, if turned in for exchange. I’m not sure this would actually work in our bank system today, but it is an interesting historical fact, perhaps more relevant to the development of our economy than we realize.

A dollar is the primary denomination of money in the United States. This was instituted by Thomas Jefferson and Gouverner Morris when the (pre-constitution) Continental Congress established the US currency in 1785. They selected the term because it was not British, but commonly known. Colonists used the word to refer to the Spanish pieces of eight (and our dollar sign, $, is derived from the symbol stamped on that coin) – though the word was originally German, an abbreviation of Joachimstal, a mine in northwest Bohemia opened in 1516. The staler began as the coin minted from silver acquired there.

Buck refers to a dollar because it was another term for money used in the American west. Native Americans sometimes traded buckskin (deer skin) with European-descended pioneers, and so over time the term became slang for official United States money also.

The stamp for making coins was wedge-shaped in the 1300’s, and the French word for wedge or corner was coing, from the Latincuneus. (Think about cuneiform writing – symbols made by pressing a wedge into soft clay). By extension, we use the word to refer to the thing stamped, a piece of metal minted as currency.

As you might expect, “dime” means a tenth, or a tithe. It also comes from the French (disme), and the Latin (decema). In 1786 Congress decided to call the ten-cent piece of our money a dime.

Nickel is one of the most fascinating words in our money-lingo. The root of the word is “devil.” Copper miners saw ore of the color they were seeking, and fell prey to the wiles of the false-copper. (In the early United States, all coin had to be made from gold, silver, or copper – metals considered more valuable – by law.) But a whitish metal could be derived from it, named “nickel” in 1754 by a Swedish mineralologist. In the history of United States money, it was first applied to one-cent pieces when nickel replaced the bulkier copper in minting those in 1857. In 1866 a second type of five-cent piece was made, also containing nickel (mixed with copper), and so the term “nickel” came to be applied to it as well. Eventually this new nickel replaced the tiny silver half-dime.

Penny is not an official congressionally-instituted name for a US coin. We insisted on using the more literal and non-British term, “cent” (one-hundredth of a dollar). But the habits of the people have prevailed. The smallest-value coin in England has long been the penny, set at one-twelfth the value of a a shilling there. Over the years their pennies were each made of silver, then copper, then bronze. Though we know the word is Germanic, since it appears all over the German languages, no one knows what it originally meant or where the word came from. In 1889 there is the first recorded use of the colloquial application of “penny” for our American one-cent piece. I have never called them anything but pennies, bright copper coins cluttering up wallets and jars and cash registers all over the country. (Incidentally, if I was referring to the British pieces collectively, the plural would be “pence” instead of “pennies”.)

Thanks to http://www.EtymOnline.com, http://www.Dictionary.Reference.com, and http://www.USMint.gov for their information.

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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I like the word meld, because it sounds basic and hard-working and makes me think of blacksmiths forging swords and armor.  Another reason to like it I just discovered: it’s a mystery word; etymologists have not uncovered its origins.  We know it was around by 1910.  It might come from Canasta, in which a player can “meld” certain combinations of cards for a score.  This sense of the word is derived from the German melden, “to make known, announce”, going back to the Proto-Germanic attested in the Old English meldian: “to declare, tell, display, proclaim”.  Or meld might be a past participle of the word mell, of which I’ve never heard before today.   

 

What does mell mean, then?  It is a verb we received from the Old French way back as far as A.D. 1300, meaning “to mix, meddle”.  Aha!  I have heard it!  But only in the compound: pell-mell, “confusedly”. 

 

This brings us to meddle, another word I’m fond of.  It is said to come from the same Old French, who received their word from the Latin, miscere, still meaning “to mix.” 

 

Though they sound much the same when speaking these days, meddle doesn’t have too much to do with metal, and it’s too bad, given my unfounded association of blacksmiths with the word meld (which may or may not have anything really to do with meddle).  Metal is English’s inheritance of Latin’s borrowing from the Greek metallon, used to refer to ore, but originally applied only as a verb “to mine, to quarry.”  Etymonline.com says that though the origin of that Greek word is unknown, there is evidence to suggest its relation to metallan, “to seek after.”

 

Medley does have to do with meddle, however.  Surprisingly, this word made its debut in English referring to a “hand-to-hand” combat, waiting 150 years before it took on the meaning of “mixture, combination” and then another 150 years or so before being applied to music. 

 

Melody was hanging out in the French language, thence visiting English at about the same time that medley meant “combat.”  Melody has always had to do with music, though.  It came from the Greek melos, which has two roots seen in melisma (from a Proto-Indo-European root meaning “a limb”??) and ode

 

Mellow can refer to music in the vernacular of the 21st century, but it actually began by referring to the characteristics of ripe fruit: “soft, sweet, juicy.”  It may have come from mele, “ground grain”, the root of meal, and been influenced by the Old English mearu, “soft, tender.”  Beginning in the 1680’s (less at present), mellow has described someone “slightly drunk.” 

 

This brings to mind the words mead and meadow, but they received their own article in 2007, so I’ll simply refer you there: http://ladyoflongbourn.blogspot.com/2007/04/mead.html

 

Before I close I would like to visit two other words that are similar (by reason of sharing all the same consonants) to meld:

Mold may be the most interesting, because it is the same word now, but its diverse definitions have had parallel (never-touching) evolutions. 

 

Mold meaning “hollow shape” from which we get the verb meaning “to knead, shape, mix, blend” has been part of the English vocabulary since A.D. 1200, originally “fashion, form; nature, native constitution, character”.  This came via the French from the Latin modulum “measure, model” from the same root as mode

 

Mold referring to the “furry fungus” is sometimes, especially outside of America, spelled mould, from moulen in the Old English related to the Old Norse mygla.  It is possible that these words derived from the Proto-Germanic root *(s)muk– and the Proto-Indo-European *meug– (found in the word mucus).  Or, it may come to us from the third definition of mold:

 

Mold, archaically, means “loose earth”.  In Old English molde meant “earth, sand, dust, soil, land, country, world”.  It is Proto-Germanic, attested in Old Frisian, Old Norse, Middle Dutch, Dutch, Old High German, Gothic.  Etymonline.com suggests that it also comes ultimately from a Proto-Indo-European root *mele– “to rub, grind” (as, once again, the word meal).  It is strange to me, given the similar sounds, but apparently this word has no common etymology with molt

 

Middle is my final word for today, and I appreciate that it comes into this essay after the Old English word, molde, “earth”, because Tolkien paired middle and earth as the name of his fantasy world.  (I have absolutely no evidence, but I wonder if Tolkien thought there was some relation?)  Middel is the Old English form, from Proto-Germanic root *medjaz directly bringing us mid, “with, in conjunction with, in company with, together with, among” probably from the Proto-Indo-European *medhyo once more meaning “middle.” 

 

(my source is http://www.Etymonline.com)

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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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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Once upon a time I was a high school student, who chose as her foreign language the fine and elegant French.  Because these courses are all about being practical and conversational, I focused on learning numbers, names of random household objects, days of the week, and names of countries.  These are the intriguing parts of language, probably the least relevant to the distinctions among the tongues.  Days of the week, months of the year, and names of places are some of the most fascinating studies in history and myth, and the migrating peoples.  Here in the United States, we call the “Fatherland,” that great military empire of the 19th and 20th centuries, boasting Kaisers and Fuhrers, Germany.  The Germans themselves call their empire Deutschland.  And upon learning French, I discovered that the passionately peaceful peasants (except during anarchic revolutions) named Germany, Allemagne. 

 

Usually my little brain is creatively making associations and speculations about where words came from, but here I was stuck.  Names and titles are interesting things, because they are only rarely required to have a relationship to definitions.  For example, in studying the etymologies of country names, I came across several (20th century inventions, mostly) whose names meant “land of the free.”  Others seem arbitrary – or even derogatory, bestowed on the people by hostile neighbors. 

 

Join me, then, as we briefly navigate the history of the world as told by the naming of nations.  Let’s begin our tour with Germany. 

 

German is first attested in writings of Julias Caesar, probably the name of an individual tribe.  Speculation on the roots of the word range from a Celtic word for “to shout” or the Germanic gar, meaning “spear.”  Part of the problem is that Germany is an empire, a collection of tribes, so that there is wide selection of names that accurately apply to large swaths of the German countryside.  English (which has had its own fair share of invading languages and kings) formerly used the French (Allemagne, “land of all the men” i.e. “our many tribes” used to denote foreigners – compare to the words alien and else.) and the German (Deutschland – “land of the people”) to refer to the country.  I cannot find out when we started calling the land Germany almost universally, but neither can I discover when the Deutschland came into use, or Allemagne.  Since they all come from ancient tribal names, none is more correct than the other – except that we might want to give precedence to what people choose to call themselves.

 

Dutch, whose name is obviously of the same root as Deutschland, is first recorded in official correspondence from Charlemagne’s reign, when it referred to Germans in general.  It means “belonging to the people” from the root þeod “people, race, nation,” actually sharing a root with another word for Germans, Teutonic (Proto-Indo-European *teuta– “people” or in Old Prussian, tauto “country”). 

 

Interestingly enough, the Polish word for Germany is Nemetsy/Niemcy which means “land of the mute.”  Mute is the way some people described others who couldn’t speak the common language.  It’s rather ethnocentric, but goes to illustrate what I was saying about getting a name from a neighbor.  (It has been suggested that the word barbarian, baby, babble, and infant all come from that same general idea: they’re talking, but we can’t understand them.  And this whole language problem is indivisible from that Biblical account of Babel.  Imagine a decade or so after the tower project was interrupted by the confusion of languages.  One forcibly-separated tribe runs into another with a speech frustratingly meaningless to the first, and they both look at each other and recite a place name, Babel.  That’s the word for it.  History explains; this is why.  How often do you get why’s in these strange questions of etymology?) 

 

Welsh is another name for a country, granted by its Saxon (another occasional word for Germany or Germans) neighbors.  It was used long ago to mean “Celtic” or simply “foreign.”  G’s and W’s are interchangeable due to accents and evolution of languages, so Welsh is actually quite close to Gael and Gaul.  The Welsh have their own name for themselves – or at least they did back when people cared about languages and less about this up and coming global society.  Cymru is that little country on the British Isles, meaning “compatriots.”  Cambria and Cumberland are derived from this name.  The Welsh were kinder to the Germanic invaders, and generally referred to them by their own name, Saxon (adapted to sound Gaelic).  Or this might have been a bitter term of respect, since the tribe seems to have been named for swords, Saxon having the same root (most likely) as saw.  Saxon is a word that shows up almost everywhere, including in those English counties Essex, Sussex, and the Gaelic term for a foreign ruler, Sassenach. 

 

Another pretty word referring to the Gaels is Brythons.  Great Britain and British are the common forms of this name today.  There is a dialect called Breton (which is really beautiful if you ever get to hear it spoken or sung).  Before Christ, Greek records describe the peoples with the term Prittanoi, “tattooed people.”  It only came into official use as a name for England when King James I  (who was definitely the Scottish King, and got the British crown after Elizabeth was done with it by reason of being a distant cousin of that childless queen – and if you think how we got names of countries is complicated, take a look at the ancestry of the famous King James!) called his country that at his coronation.  It was made official 100 years later when Scotland (more properly British by racial descent) was joined to England.   

 

Scotland’s name is so old that we aren’t sure what it means.  The English called the inhabitants of Ireland Scottas, and that was an idea they picked up from the Romans (Latin).  Speculation born purely out of the similar sound says that the term may have come from an Irish insult, “a term of scorn,” scuit.  But I have no idea what that word means.  In Gaelic Scotland is Alba, from the Indo-European for “white,” supposedly referring to the white chalk around Dover or some association with mountains (similarity to Alps).  In Latin Scotland was also called Caledonia, which is “good waters” in Greek.  (Apparently the Greeks and Romans hung out a little more than the Greeks and the Persians, despite each being successive empires of the known world.) 

 

I’ve mentioned the Irish a couple times.  Their etymology is pretty simple.  It comes from Erin, a word referring to fertility of land, and animals and people.  Whether the goddess Eire got her name from this word or vice versa, she was the goddess of fertility in the pagan mythology of the Gaels. 

  

Another country whose name is most likely from a god is Egypt, which supposedly means “temple of the soul of Ptah” (this is Egyptian, and was their name for the city of Memphis), although some say it comes from the Greek, “land below the Aegean sea” which in its Latin form is Aegyptus.  In the Bible the country is named for its founder, Mizraim, who was one of the sons of Ham, the son of Noah.  In Hebrew the word has meaning, “straits or narrow places,” referring to the distribution of civilization along the Nile.  Other Arabic definitions of this word mean “city” or “to settle or found.”  In Coptic, Egypt is Kême “black land” describing the mud after summer floods contrasted with the “red land” of the desert.  (You gotta hear this.  Desert is from the Ancient Egyptian, dsrt.  They should know.) 

 

Ethiopia is a word originally Greek, aithein “to burn” and ops “face.” It was talking about the skin color of the inhabitants.  (However, some sources attribute the name to another descendant of Noah, Ityopp’is, who is supposedly a son of Cush – I don’t know which one from Gen. 10:7 is meant.  But in the Bible, Cush is the name for Ethiopia).  A few hundred years ago, Ethiopia was Abyssinia, derived from the Arabic, meaning “mixed.”  There was actually a mixture of ethnic groups inhabiting that country. 

 

Other biblical places and their name origins are:

            Jordan, named for the river, “descend” of Hebrew and Canaanite origin. 

            Iran means “land of the Aryans” or “land of the free.”  Arya comes from the Proto-Indo-European with a definition of “noble, free.”  In the Bible it is called Persia, which has the same root as paradise, “garden.” 

            Iraq means “between the rivers.”  In the Bible it was Babylon “gate of the gods” in usage, but derived from Babel. 

            Palestine is the Roman name for Israel, literally “land of the Philistines,” and intended as a jibe at the Jews.  Philistine itself is from a Semitic root meaning “invader.”  The Philistines were Phoenician high-tech seafarers who settled on the coast and oppressed Israel living inland. 

 

Spain actually gets its name from the Phoenicians as well, since they had quite the colony and port in Spain.  The Phoenicians called it “isle of hyraxes,” mistaking the abundant hares for the African hyraxes.  The word has changed very little since then.  It began as Î-šəpānîm, was modified to Hispania for Latin, and comes to us today via the French Spagne as Spain. 

 

France is named for a weapon, and actually for a Germanic tribe (who else – named for a weapon?), the Franks.  A frankon was a spear.  Frank became associated with freedom when they ruled over the Gauls.  By contrast, then, to the Gauls, who were essentially slaves, the Franks were free.  Interesting, however, that the people owning and earning the name are not at all the majority of the people traditionally associated with the country of France.  Neither, for that matter, is France typically associated with freedom or weapons. 

 

Italy means “son of a bull god.”  And this one you just can’t skip.  Vatican City comes from a word meaning “to prophesy,” but in a completely pagan way.  The city is built on an old street that used to host fortune tellers and sooth-sayers (obviously before the Christianization of Rome). 

 

Finally, two more interesting names.  One is Siam, which got its name from Myanmar/Burma, its neighbor.  Siam means “land of Gold.”  Siam was changed to Thailand in the first half of the 20th century.  Pakistan is the other interesting name.  Like the demographics of the country itself, the name is a compilation, an acronym made up by Choudhary Rahmat Ali in 1934 well before the region became a country in 1956.  It stands for Punjab, Afghania, Kashmir, Sindh, and Balochistan.”  

 

You may have noticed that Pakistan has occasional identity crises, and suffers from severe division.  The USA is in a similar situation, but we have heretofore handled our cultural differences considerably better than Pakistan (our primary blemish being the Civil War over 100 years ago). 

 

“Out of the many, one” is a hard thing to achieve.  In honor of the attempt, I close with the much more widely known etymology of the United States of America.  United and States being self-evident, America is the feminine form of Amerigo, the name of a conceited cartographer who made made his name so prominent on his maps that the people, knowing no better, assumed the new world was named Amerigo.  And so it is. 

 

Thank you to the following resources, from which I got almost all of this information:

http://www.teachersparadise.com/ency/en/wikipedia/l/li/list_of_country_name_etymologies.html

http://www.etymonline.com/index.php

http://www.wikipedia.com/

http://www.dictionary.com

http://www.encyclopedia.com

http://www.interestingunusualfacts.com/2008/09/unusualfactsinterestingcountryplaces.html

God’s Word for Windows

 

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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