Category Archives: Etymological Illuminations

Just so’s we’re clear…

I will avoid the easy double-entendre opportunities afforded by pliant, willing “so“.  Of grammar’s eight Parts Of Speech, “so” generously serves a full five of them with an ample dozen shades of meaning.  She began her magnanimous life, however, in very opposite circumstances – a tightly limited existence as a reflexive pronoun stem (say what?) for language’s vastly ancient Proto Indo European (PIE). She was just a little servant stem-word that called out to emphasize those moments when the pronoun-boss was reflecting back to his own self.  Like:  He was talking to…whom?… to himself.   In this modest way she toiled for a few thousand years, up through Greek and Latin,  then into Germanic and Norse and Old English.  Ever so(!) slowly she worked her way free of the stem straightjacket.  Adding “as” and “in that way” to her repertoire she started to stand alone as sweet supplier of emphatic services, and English turned out to be wonderfully appreciative.  English gave her free reign, and in a short few hundred years she filled her dance card with new partners. There’s no way to know how the tipping point was achieved, but by 1530 so-so had come to mean something “mediocre”, and by 1596 so-and-so meant “something of unspecified value”, making the dance floor look pretty wide open.  In what way, when, why, farewell, sarcasm, curiosity, agreement, affirmation, approximation, thereupon, likewise, disinterest, orderliness, and many more now compete for her hand.  So!  Things no longer had to be just so.  English was liberal, so much so that PIE certainly wouldn’t recognize it’s own anymore.  And, so what!  Times change, and so be it. So became an enthusiast of the vernacular, and has remained so.  She seized her opportunities, so got the prize of ubiquity.  We find her everywhere, and enjoy her so!  And so on and so forth. So there! 

So long!

 

 

 

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Naughty

I thought “naughty” would be an amusing, light etymological romp, but the very first syllable sent me tumbling 4,000 years Alice-down-the -rabbit-hole to land at the root of language, where the traceable starts to vanish into the unknowable.  All the way to Proto Indo European (sweetly known as PIE).  Our no, from Old English na (no, not, nothing), from PIE’s ne.  The earliest polarity of expression:  no/yes, dark/light, yin/yang, digital’s 0/1.   We say yes now, but we used also to say “aye”, and that’s PIE too, from aiw– “vital force, life, long life, eternity”.  I leave you to plumb these deep waters while I return to the easier shallows of “naughty”.  Na (no) + Old English wiht (thing, amount), Old High German and Old Norse wight (thing, creature, spirit/demon).  Mathematics still uses nought (nothing, zero), and poetry and very elderly persons might still say “You’ve got naught (nothin’)”.  You yourself might even have said “You don’t have a whit (wight) of evidence!”.  Naughty itself, however, seems to have adventured down the alternative Old High German meaning of spirit/demon. How they got to spirit/demon from no-thing is a trippy speculation: nothing can have an alarming side, perhaps especially in the great nothingness of Old High German forests, haunted with unseen spirits?  In any case, naughty enjoyed a dramatic heyday in the 16th century, meaning “wicked, evil, morally wrong”.  But it’s been downhill ever since, by now coming so close to naught as to signify cutely mischevious, amusingly disobedient.

 

 

Etymological illuminations brought to you by Jane

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Oh Fancy it; let there be light!

D’ya fancy something fancy, or is it just a passing fancy?  Frothy little word, to hail from Ancient Greek bedrock!  Phos (light), phainos (to show in light), phantozein (to make visible); Latin’s phantasia; English fantasy, fant’sy, contracting into  fancy all its own around 1400.  Where does your desire cast its light, what dost thou illuminate. Fancy’s A to Z…from Napoleon Hill’s “Think and Grow Rich” to St. Theresa’s “there are more tears wept over answered prayers than unanswered prayers”.  Your desire, fantasy, enthusiasm, whim, hobby, the superlative, the high-falutin…or where I may be headed here, into the unnecessarily complicated.  Shine on!

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Fonny Games, So Full of Fun

FUN indeed!  How amazing that Middle English’s cheating, hoaxing, befooling fon shape-shifted down the centuries to its near polar opposite…frolicsome, amusing fun.  How is it that the horrid hoax became amusing, playful? Is it too much to read into this some optimistic lightening-up in the human psyche?  Or did we just give in to our shadow side and call it “Bob’s your uncle”?  Whatever.  We moderns only call into use its ancient dark root hidden in funny – as in funny (counterfeit) money, or when our gut ponders if there wasn’t something funny about that guy/situation/thing, something suspiciously, strangely odd.

Hmm.


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Holler!

HELLO, is it?  Hollo! Hallo! Halloo! is what your ancient Old High German/Old French predecessor did shout, bellow, exclaim, roar.  A loud cry to call attention:  quarry spotted, trespasser warned, ferryman hailed, objection exclaimed, greeting chorused, champion exhorted!  These days, it is tamed to the decorus emollient of everyday encounter…but still we sometimes holler.


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