July 11, 2006

And Now for Something Completely Different

By Callimachus

Here's one I used to do at my home place, based on one of my odd-ball hobbies. I don't know if it will entertain you folks or not; consider it a summer diversion. Are these pairs of modern English words related to each other or not?

Click to see the answers.
1. cult/occult

2. climate/climax

3. priest/preacher

4. defense/offense

5. wine/vine

6. book/beech

7. grave (n.)/gravel

8. proper/property

1. NOT RELATED

Cult comes from Latin cultus, which meant “care, cultivation, worship,” but originally “tended, cultivated.” It is the past particple of colere “to till” (the source of colony, among other modern English words, and ultimately related to the root of cycle and circle).

Occult, on the other hand , is from Latin occultus “hidden, concealed, secret,” which is the past participle of the verb occulere “cover over, conceal.” This is a compound of ob “over” and a verb related to celare “to hide.” The ultimate roots of this are in a reconstructed Proto-Indo-European base *kel- “conceal,” which also has yielded, via Latin, cell and cellar, and, via its Germanic branch, holster, hole, and helm.

2. RELATED

They come from a pair of Greek nouns, klima “region, zone,” and klimax “ladder,” both derived from the base of the noun klinein “to slope.”

The notion behind klima is “the slope of the Earth from equator to pole.” The Greek geographers used the angle of the sun to define the Earth's zones.

From Greek, the words took off down diverging paths. The Romans picked up clima (genitive climatis) in its sense of “region, slope of the Earth,” and by Chaucer's time it had made its way into English. But by c.1600 the meaning had shifted from “region” to “weather associated with that region.”

Greek klimax “ladder,” meanwhile, acquired a metaphoric meaning “propositions rising in effectiveness.” The rhetorical meaning evolved in English through “series of steps by which a goal is achieved,” to “escalating steps,” to (1789) “high point,” a usage credited by the Oxford English Dictionary “to popular ignorance.” The meaning “orgasm” is first recorded in 1918, apparently coined by birth-control pioneer Marie Stopes as a more accessible word than orgasm.

3. NOT RELATED

Priest is Old English preost, shortened from the older Germanic form represented by Old High German prestar and Old Frisian prestere. All are very early Germanic borrowings from Late Latin presbyter “presbyter, elder.” Presumably the words came to the Germanic tribes along with the Christian missionaries who converted them.

The Latin word in turn was a borrowing of Greek presbyteros “an elder,” which also was an adjective meaning “older.” It is the comparative form of presbys “old.”

This word is something of a mystery, but one suggested origin is that it meant “one who leads the cattle,” and is a compound of *pres- “before” and the root of bous “cow.”

Preach also was an Old English word borrowed from Church Latin. The Anglo-Saxon form was predician, but the word was re-borrowed in Middle English in the Frenchified form preachen.

The source of both forms is Late Latin predicare “to proclaim publicly, announce” (in Medieval Latin “to preach”), a compound of præ- “forth” and dicare “to proclaim, to say.”

4. RELATED

The base is a Latin verb (found only in compounds) fendere “to strike, push.” Add the prefix de- “from, away” and you get defendere “ward off, protect.” Add the prefix ob “against” and you get offendere “to strike against, stumble.” The sense of “commit a fault, displease” also was in Latin.

5. RELATED

In fact, pretty much the same word. The Latin root is vinum “wine.” From this came vinea “vine, vineyard,” which passed into Old French as vigne and thence into Middle Enaglish as vine.

Latin vimun had gone directly into Old English (and most other Germanic languages) as win, which became modern English wine.

The Latin word for “wine” also passed into Old Church Slavonic (vino), Lithuanian (vynas), Welsh (gwin), and Old Irish (fin).

The ultimate root of the Latin word appears to be from a lost language that was spoken in the Mediterranean before the Indo-European peoples arrived there more than 6,000 years ago, which makes it an ancient word indeed. Its other descendants include Greek oinos and words for “wine” in Armenian, Hittite, and non-Indo-European Georgian and West Semitic (cf. Arabic wain, Hebrew yayin, Ethiopian wayn).

6. RELATED

At least we think so. The traditional derivation of the common Germanic word for “book” (Old English boc, German Buch) is from Proto-Germanic *bokjon “beech” (Old English bece, German Buche).

The notion is that the original written documents of the northern European peoples were beechwood tablets on which runes were inscribed, but the derivation also may be from the tree itself; people still carve their initials into them. This is not so far-fetched, as Latin and Sanskrit also have words for “writing” that are based on tree names (“birch” and “ash,” respectively).

The base of beech and its Germanic relatives is Proto-Indo-European *bhagos a tree name that has come to mean different things in different places (cf. Greek phegos “oak,” Latin fagus “beech,” Russian buzina “elder”). It's not unusual for tree names to switch around like this.

The ground sense of the Proto-Indo-European word may well be “edible,” if it is related, as some thing, to Greek phagein “to eat.” Beech mast was an ancient food source for agricultural animals across a wide stretch of Europe.

7. NOT RELATED

Grave is Old English græf “grave, ditch,” from a Proto-Germanic *graban that also yielded Old High German grab “grave, tomb;” Old Norse gröf “cave,” and Gothic graba “ditch”). This evolved from a Proto-Indo-European root *ghrebh-/*ghrobh- “to dig, to scratch, to scrape,” which also yielded Old Church Slavonic grobu “grave, tomb”). IT is unrelated to the adjective grave.

Gravel is from Old French gravele, a diminutive of grave “sand, seashore,” which came into French from one of the Celtic peoples who once inhabited Gaul. IT is related, thus, to Welsh gro “coarse gravel,” Breton grouan, and Cornish grow “gravel.”

8. RELATED

The roots of both are in Latin proprius “one's own, special, particular to itself.”

The Latin word came directly into English (via French) as proper by the early 13th century. In English it originally meant “adapted to some purpose, fit, apt;” the meaning “socially appropriate” is first recorded in 1704. The original sense is preserved in proper name and astronomical proper motion.

Latin proprietas was a noun formed from proprius that literally meant “special character.” The Romans coined this to be an exact translation of Greek idioma once they began to absorb Greek ideas. But the Latin word also took on a specific sense of “ownership, property, propriety,” in which sense it passed through French and into English by 1300.

But the earliest English usages were in the more vague sense of “nature, quality.” The typical modern meaning “possession” was rare before the 17th century. One of the dangers of interpreting old texts is that you may encounter familiar words with meanings that have shifted or narrowed.

Latin proprius is a compound formed from the phrase pro privo, literally “for the individual.”

Posted by Callimachus at July 11, 2006 4:56 PM
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