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Lords & Ladies, Your Origins, Please!
There are modest truths of etymology that give pause to beginners, such as: 60% of English words of two syllables or more are likely to be derived directly from French. Consider these random examples.
despair - from Old French desespeir from Latin desperare ‘to lose hope
geography - from French géographie from Latin from Greek geo- ‘land,earth’ + graphia ‘writing about...’
gentleman - loan translation from Old French gentilz hom ‘man of good birth’
parent - direct borrowing from Old French from Latin present participle parens, parentis ‘having children’
Here's another axiom of everyday etymology: Most modern English words have been borrowed into our language and not altered excessively, so that, if we know French, Latin, Greek, German, and perhaps a few other European languages, we can recognize the language from which English borrowed a word.
Remember too that English is the great thief of tongues. Among the major world languages, English has the largest vocabulary of any language. We have borrowed more words from more languages than French or Arabic or Russian or German or Chinese. We have merrily filched words from every foreign language ever encountered in our scamperings across the globe of Earth.
But some English words have undergone extensive changes. The words lady and lord are two such changelings.
The terse roots and monosyllabic husks of English are Germanic. The basic Old English word stock, all those simple Anglo-Saxon words have survived into Modern English reasonably intact. True, these old words have not rolled down through the centuries untouched. But the majority of them have not suffered an obscuring metamorphosis. Lord and lady, on the other hand, are words mightily altered by historical condensings and shortenings. Linguistics applies more scientific names to these word-changing processes, names like crasis, elision, and vowel gradation.
Now and then English offers up a word so seemingly simple but so altered by age as to be startling when we discover its roots. Such a word is lady. Lady begins in Anglo-Saxon or Old English as hlæfdige ‘bread-kneader’ being compounded of hlaf ‘loaf of bread’ + dige ‘female kneader.’ So the first lady was she who kneaded the bread. Lord is what is left from Old English hlaf -weard> hlaford =, hlāf ‘bread, loaf ‘+ weard keeper, guard (think of ward, wardrobe, guard, garden [place where you keep or guard plants?] ). So the lady kneaded the loaf of bread and the lord guarded the bread as master of the household.
How did the word hlæfdige become the word lady? The precise details of all its transformations need not concern us here, except to state that Old English intervocalic g tended to soften to a short ‘yuh’ sound and then disappear. Let’s illustrate this process happening in another common English word. Compare our very English flower word daisy. Daisy began as an actual Anglo-Saxon phrase dæges-ēage ‘day’s eye,’ that is, the eye of day, a name both lovely and apt, referring as it does to the sun-like yellow center of the flower that closes its white ray petals each evening and opens them anew each dawn. This word of course refers to an English daisy of the Bellis genus. But the point worth noting is the disappearance in the phrase of both intervocalic g sounds. Thus all that remains of the Old English word for eye ēage is the final y of daisy.
By the way, compare Old English ēage with its modern German cognate, die Auge ‘the eye.’ An interesting related compound word came into English from the Vikings who brought with them when they raided and conquered parts of Britain, the Old Norse word vindauga literally ‘eye of the wind,’ (from Old Scandinavian vindr ‘wind’ + auga ‘eye’). A vindauga was a hole in a Viking dwelling to let in air. This gave us our English word window.
Returning to hlæfdige ‘loaf-kneader’ becoming lady, we note that the f sound in hlæf softened first to a light v and then went bye-bye too. When two vowels lose an interposing consonant (like the g dropping out of –dige and the gs dropping out of dæges-ēage) those vowels often blend together in a process called in linguistics crasis (from Greek krasis ‘a mixing, a combining’). The two vowels blend into one long vowel or a diphthong (diphthoggos Greek ‘made of two sounds’).
Origin of The Word Crater
Our English phrases lunar crater or meteor crater or volcanic crater have the word crater borrowed from Latin. The Romans borrowed it from Greek where krater was a big mixing bowl, usually for mixing water to lessen the dreadful, sour taste of ancient wine. The Romans regularly added honey to their revolting wine so they could drink it. In extant Latin literature there are no long lists of tongue-teasing vintage wines. You’ll read about wines like Falernian. But keep reading, to discover what the Romans had to add to their rough ferment to render it palatable.
Lord derives from Old English hláford , itself reduced from an earlier form hláfweard = hláf ‘bread or loaf’ + *weard ’ keeper, guard, warder.’ The lord guarded the larder and decided who ate bread at his table. The word lord’s popularity and persistence in English was guaranteed once early Bible translators decided to use it as the translation of the Vulgate’s Latin term for God and Jesus, dominus (Latin, head of the domus Latin ‘house’). To dominate meant originally is to lord it over other members of the household.
A Sample of Old English
from about 893 C.E. found in writings attributed to King Alfred the Great:
Old English: Ohthere sæde his hlaforde, Ælfrede cyninge…
Modern English: And Uther said to his lord, King Alfred…
Hláford as a type of compound word was common in Germanic and Scandinavian languages. Consider one Old English synonym for servant, hlāf-æta ‘bread-eater.’ Modern German still has Brotherr=Brot ‘bread’ + Herr ‘master, lord’ meaning literally ‘bread-master’ but referring to a man who employs others so that they can earn their daily bread. Swedish and Danish have a word that servants used when referring to their mistress of the household, matmoder ‘meat-mother.’ The term is probably of Old Norse provenance since it persists in Icelandic matmóđir.
Loaf & Its Cognates
The English word loaf, as in loaf of bread, has relatives in all the Indo-European languages. It derives from Old English hlāf ‘loaf of bread.’ Related are:
• Modern German Laib ‘loaf of bread’
• Modern Russian xлeб ‘bread, loaf ‘ pronounced ‘chlyeb’ and probably borrowed into Old Slavic from Proto-Germanic
• Old Norse (language of the Vikings) hleifr ‘loaf of bread’
• Latin libum ‘a sacrificial cake’
• Ancient Egyptian! hebnen-t ‘sacrificial cake’
Its appearance among the hieroglyphs of ancient Egypt suggests that this word for bread predates even the arrival of the Indo-Europeans, and further hints that they arrived in the Mediterranean area to find the word and the baking of bread already well established. The fact that the common IE word for bread was borrowed and is not a native IE word suggests that the Indo-Europeans may have learned after their arrival to bake bread from the Mediterranean peoples who populated the littoral of the great sea.
Egyptian slave making bread about 5,000 B.C.E.
And so, my Lady and my Lord curtsy and take their gentle leave of you.
© 2012 copyright William Gordon Casselman
Reviews of my Book
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A Great New Review of My Latest Book!
October 26, 2011
Welcome to the Enchanted Forest
By WB Johnston
This review is about Bill Casselman’s latest e-book about words: Where a Dobdob Meets a Dikdik: A Word Lover’s Guide to the Weirdest, Wackiest, and Wonkiest Lexical Gems (Kindle Edition)
“Wade Davis, lately of National Geographic, once described each living language as “an old-growth forest of the human spirit.” Once you decide to enter the kleptomaniacal woods of our mother tongue, what you need is more than a tour guide. This is no Disney-fied ‘keep-your-hands-inside-the-car-at all-times’, point A to point B, clear-cutting mining of language. You, here, are in the hands of Sir William of Cassel, a genuine shaman modestly posing as a simple lover of words.
In the best of the spiritual tradition, Bill is the shape-shifter who constantly leads you to all the places you need to find in your soul. Every page is a new country, an invitation to an excursion into the wonderland of rich connections with the myriad of sources of what so often we unthinkingly wield as a prosaic tool.
Pay absolutely no attention to anyone who tells you that this book is anything but pure gold. It’s simply not true, sadly, that all the world loves a lover. Particularly someone whose love is so boundless.
But Sir William is fearless. You don’t earn your keep as a medicine man if you have a thin skin. While I cannot for the life of me understand how anyone could walk away from this book unmoved by its wit, its wisdom and the beautiful transparency by which the author celebrates the glorious romp of our almost unlimited linguistic exuberance, I have to sadly conclude that once in a while, you do meet someone who can’t see the forest for the trees, eh?
Read this book. Leave it on the sofa instead of the $%#!*$% TV remote. Maybe someone you care about will pick it up, even just for a moment, and fall in love with their heritage?
Leave it on your desk at work and trust that someone will riffle through it when you are out at lunch. Shamans are magicians of the highest order. The work of their hands and hearts is game-changing. Or, hey, put it on your Kindle and just feel comforted that you can wander back out into the forest with Bill even in the middle of a boring lecture.
(Casselman replies: Thank you so much, Dr. J., for the kudos.)
Jenni French of San Francisco, California writes on her blog “My Corner of the Universe” for March 19, 2011:
Casselman, Bill. Where a Dobdob Meets a Dikdik: A World Lover’s Guide to the Weirdest, Wackiest, and Wonkiest Lexical Gems. Avon, MA: Adams Media, 2010.
“I admit it: I’m a word nerd. I love words: weird words, long words, obscure words, funny words. This book is right up my alley. With chapters like “Nautical Words,” “Creepy Words,” and “Edible Words,” I have enjoyed every page of this book.
And the author has quite a way with words, so I have found myself rereading many sentences in this book and slowing my progress through it.
My current favorite sentence is found in a discussion of dog hybrid breed names: “What a revolting concatenation of cutesiness and smarmy nomenclatorial treacle parading under the name of canine hybrid breed names” (19).
I’m sure I’ll have another favorite sentence in a day or two.
This book is just that good and just that entertaining.”
(Author Bill Casselman replies: “Thanks, Jenni!” )
Just a reminder that this book contains my ALL-NEW word essays, none of which are available anywhere else in print or online.
Cindy Lapeña on her blog “Creativity Unlimited” of July 19 ,2011, writes:
Posted by mimrlith in 365 Things to Look Forward to.
Tags: 365 things to look forward to, books, reading
19. Starting a book
To a certified bibliophile like me, a.k.a. bookworm, one of the most exciting things to look forward to is to start reading a new book. In fact, sometimes the prospect of starting to read a new book is so exciting that I have to hurry to finish the book I am currently reading, just so I can start a new one.
If there’s one thing I can’t resist, it’s a book, especially if it promises to be a good one. Of course there are certain books I just won’t touch or be seen with, but at the risk of being hung by my thumbs by fans of such literature, I will not mention any genres in particular. . .
Seeing a book with a title that totally captivates me, like Where a Dobdob meets a Dikdik (yes, that is a book title!) has me so worked up, I just can’t wait to dive in. I imagine all sorts of deliciously fancifully outrageous words with a title like that. Is it obvious? I just love books on words. You won’t believe how many dictionaries I own. Or books on lexical oddities and other lexical explorations. Yes, I am a logophile of sorts. I love the new words I pick up from new books. I relish finding out the meanings of all manner of words and phrases and expressions. What could be more fun?”
(Replies author Bill Casselman: Please scroll to bottom of page or click here to link to a free seven-page preview of my book, Where a Dobdob Meets a Dikdik.
Thursday, February 3, 2011
Dear Mr. Casselman,
A search for the origins of an improbable-looking word, paraprosdokian, led me to the first piece of your prose I have had the pleasure of reading, “The Bogus Word Paraprosdokian & Lazy Con Artists of Academe.” I have just placed an order for Where a Dobdob Meets a Dikdik, Canadian Words & Sayings, and As The Canoe Tips, and will add more of your titles as I finish these.
I have just retired from a 40-plus year career in book publishing, the last thirty years spent as director/editor of a number of university presses, attempting to sort the genuine writers from the “Lazy Con Artists of Academe.” Sad to say, the latter have so over-bred the former that I could no longer see the rare gem in the avalanches of offal that daily swamped my office and desk. I visited your website and spent far too long there; it was a pleasure to meet a real writer through his work.
. . . I revisited the paraprosdokian page, and have finally quit laughing again at “Casselman’s Conclusion.” You were not unkind to the “profligate prof-lets.” During my years as an acquisitions editor, in rejection letters I often quoted Prof. Moses Hadas, classicist at Columbia University, who wrote a young scholar in response to having been sent the prof-let’s first book, “Thank you for sending me your book. I will waste no time reading it.”
I know I will enjoy your books. Keep up the good work.
University of New Mexico Press, among others
I invite you to tour my site and select from the hundreds of word stories here.
To begin, click on the Word List banner below.
Then perhaps browse the site map with its links to every page of my website.
origin of the word lord
origin of the word lady
origin of the word daisy
origin of the word window
origin of the word crater
origin of the word loaf
Egyptian origin of common word for bread or loaf