Catch
Posted: 17 September 2010 07:26 AM   [ Ignore ]
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Browsing through the entry on English language in Britannica Online (home access courtesy of the public library; their online reference resources really are a godsend) and came across this passage:

For the first century after the Conquest, most loanwords came from Normandy and Picardy, but with the extension south to the Pyrenees of the Angevin empire of Henry II (reigned 1154–89), other dialects, especially Central French, or Francien, contributed to the speech of the aristocracy. As a result, Modern English acquired the forms canal, catch, leal, real, reward, wage, warden, and warrant from Norman French side by side with the corresponding forms channel, chase, loyal, royal, regard, gage, guardian, and guarantee, from Francien.

All interesting stuff but one of the pairings made me do a doubletake. Catch and chase? Checking OED I find that they are indeed sisters under the skin, both derived from the same root, and that catch itself originally meant chase.

catch, v.

[ME. cache-n, cacche-n, a. ONF. cachier (3rd sing. pr. cache), = central OF. chacier, later chassier, mod.F. chasser (Picard cacher) = Pr. cassar, Sp. cazar (OSp. cabzar), Pg. caçar, It. cacciare: - late L. *captiare, f. capt-us ‘taken captive’, which took in Romanic the place of L. captare ‘to strive to seize, seek to catch, lie in wait for’, and in late use = ven{amac}ri ‘to hunt, chase’, which is the sense in all the Romanic langs. This sense was also original in Eng.; and continued in Scotch to 16th c. (see sense 1); but for this the central OF. chacier, chace was adopted in form chace-n by 1300, and catch was gradually confined to its present sense, which is unknown to French and the other langs., but is that of OE. læcc(e)an, ME. lacchen, lachen. With the latter, cachen seems to have been very early treated as synonymous, and at length entirely took its place. Hence, app. the pa. tense cahte, cauhte, caughte, caught, like lahte, lauhte, laughte, laught, which was used along with the regular cacched, catchte, catched, and during the present century has superseded it in literary use (though catched, cotched is still widely prevalent in dial. or vulgar speech).]

I.  1. trans. To chase, to drive. Obs.

chase, v.

[ME. a. OF. chacie-r, later chascie-r, chasse-r. in 11th c. cacer (ONF. cacher, Pr. cassar, Sp. cazar, Pg. caçar, It. cacciare): - late L. *captiare, used instead of captare (freq. of capere to take) to seize, catch, in late L. also ‘to chase, hunt’: see Du Cange. The ONF. form cacher, gave CATCH, which had at first both senses ‘chase’ and ‘catch,’ but was at length differentiated, and confined to the latter.]

I. To pursue with a view to catching.

Reward/regard and wage/gage were unexpected too. Is there some sort of known pattern to this substitution of ws for gs?

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Posted: 17 September 2010 08:30 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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aldiboronti - 17 September 2010 07:26 AM

Reward/regard and wage/gage were unexpected too. Is there some sort of known pattern to this substitution of ws for gs?

In nearly all of France (and other Romance countries), the Latin [w] sound (represented by “V” as in VINUM) shifted to [v].  So at a later stage when these languages incorporated Germanic words beginning with [w], they replaced [w] with the closest sound in their repertoire, which was [gw] represented by the letter combination gu.  The [gw] sound in French was subsequently simplified to [g], which is why today there is the contrast garde (Fr.) vs. guard (Eng.).  Later English imports from French have the “u-less” form (like gage).

However, in the northwest corner of France (including what is today southern Belgium) the [w] sound had not yet vanished – indeed, it remains to this day (I believe) in
Wallonia (the “French"-speaking region of Belgium).  So residents in these areas had no trouble incorporating Germanic “w” words.  The line dividing French “gw” from “w” speakers – known as the Joret Line – in fact separates southern Normandy from northern Normandy (along with Picardy and Wallonia).  So most, but not all, of William’s fellow conquerors were likely “w” speakers.

The net result is that English has preserved a number of dialectal doublets.  Hence reward/regard, wage/gage & engage, warden/guardian, wardroom/guardroom, warranty/guarantee, rearward/rear guard, wile/guile, wallop/gallop, wardrobe/garderobe (archaic).  (Note that wallop initially meant “a horse’s gallop”.)

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Posted: 17 September 2010 08:59 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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Just thought I’d add an entertaining little snippet from later in the EB article, which shows those “improprieties” which got 18th century grammarians hot under the collar.

It was unfortunate that Joseph Priestley, Robert Lowth, James Buchanan, and other 18th-century grammarians (Priestley was perhaps better known as a scientist and theologian) took a narrower view than Johnson on linguistic growth and development. They spent too much time condemning such current “improprieties” as “I had rather not,” “you better go,” “between you and I,” “it is me,” “who is this for?”, “between four walls,” “a third alternative,” “the largest of the two,” “more perfect,” and “quite unique.” Without explanatory comment they banned “you was” outright, although it was in widespread use among educated people (on that ground it was later defended by Noah Webster). “You was” had, in fact, taken the place of both “thou wast” and “thou wert” as a useful singular equivalent of the accepted plural “you were.”

Priestley and the others certainly cast a long shadow; castigation of such so-called errors still abounds on the net and elsewhere. The phrase “you was” is interesting; one of the things you notice in reading pre-20th century English writings is just how common the construction was in all ranks of society. Gradually, under the baleful eye of the schoolmaster, it withdrew and became associated with ‘uneducated speech’. It’s a damn shame.

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Posted: 17 September 2010 09:03 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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Thank you, madeira. (I posted my last without seeing your response).

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Posted: 17 September 2010 10:03 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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aldiboronti - 17 September 2010 09:03 AM

Thank you, madeira. (I posted my last without seeing your response).

Obrigado.

Here in Portugal one says “obrigado” ("obliged") for both “thank you” and “you’re welcome”; “obrigada” if you’re a lady. 

Portuguese don’t seem to like the consonant “l” very much:  it has generally become “r” in the combinations bl, fl, pl, and disappeared entirely between vowels.  Hence the contrast between Portuguese and Spanish/English:  obrigado/obligado/obliged, fraco/flaco/flaccid, praça/plaza/plaza, cor/color/color.  This also explains why Portuguese are “Portuguese” and not “Portugalese”!

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Posted: 17 September 2010 02:27 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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It’s a damn shame.

Heartily seconded.

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