To twig
Posted: 22 March 2011 05:37 AM   [ Ignore ]
Total Posts:  1020
Joined  2007-03-01

I have just seen it confidently asserted that the slang verb twig, meaning “to understand, comprehend” is from an Irish word tuigim, meaning “to understand”.

Does anybody know if this is true, or even likely? The online OED simply says ‘origin uncertain’.

Posted: 22 March 2011 10:59 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
Total Posts:  4076
Joined  2007-01-29

Well, I’ll be damned.  I was going to say “Not likely,” but then I looked in my American Heritage Dictionary and found the etymology “Irish Gaelic tuigim, I understand, from Old Irish tuicim,” so it’s certainly respectable even if not universally accepted.  (In the Connemara Irish I studied, it’s tigim, with palatal t- sounding almost like ts-, which probably induced me to dismiss the idea.)

For those who might be interested, the Old Irish word etymologically/literally means ‘can bring’; the eDIL entry for the verb berid ‘carries, brings, etc.’ begins:

do-beir (*to-ber-, Ped. ii 469 ), gives, places; brings, gets. The perfective forms are supplied, in the meaning gives, places, by *to-rat-, in the meaning brings, gets by *to-ucc-; in later lang. the perf. do-ucc (tuc) gradually takes the place of do-bert and do-rat and is sometimes used to gloss the two latter, cf. tard .i. tug, O’Cl.  ... The perfective *to-ucc- (lit. can bring) also forms a complete paradigm without distinction of perfective and non-perfective forms, with the meaning understands (later tuicid) the vn. being 2 tabairt later replaced by tuicsiu.

Some of the forms of this verb are dubir, tabair, tabrai, dobeir, doberam, taibrem, d-a-berid-si, dobertis, do-m-beirtis, tabratis, toibre, donberaid-si, doberthusa, tiobhrainn-si, tibartha-sa, tiubhrumais, do-m-biurt, dobert-sa, contubert, do-s-bertatar, dobreth, tabarr, taborthar, doberr, do-m-bertar, dopartar, tabarthae, tubrad, and tabrad, and those are just from the ber- stem; there’s also the uc- stem (ro-uccai, -rucat, -ruca, ro-uiccius, -ruc, ro-uctha, etc.) and the rat- stem (do-rati, -tarti, -tartar, do-ratus, -tartsat, etc.).  That multifarious splendor will either make you long to study OIr. or to run in the opposite direction!