mystery words in english
Posted: 25 November 2011 12:03 PM   [ Ignore ]
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Hi this is my first post,can anyone explain where certain common words in english came from,I am thinking here of, for eg, “dog” “tree” and “bird”,most english words can directly be traced back to Latin,norman french,or of course Anglo saxon.The Anglo saxons used “hund”, “beam” and"fugol" for these three words,and there dont seem to be any Norman french ,or latin words that they could have come from. so how and from where did theycome from .Any knowlegable forum user out there to answer this.

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Posted: 25 November 2011 12:41 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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Most dictionaries have etymologies that will tell you what you want to know.

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Posted: 25 November 2011 01:24 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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All three are from Old English.

Dog is found in Old English, but it’s ultimate origin is a mystery. No one can figure out where it comes from. Cognates in other languages appear to be borrowings from English. (I really need to write this one up for the Big List.)

Tree is also from Old English (treow), but unlike dog it has lots of cognates in other Germanic languages. So no big mystery with this one; the etymology is quite straightforward.

Bird is from the Old English bridd and bird in Northumbrian, meaning “nestling, young bird.” Simple metathesis there with the switch of the <i> and <r>. But like dog, it has no cognates in other Germanic languages.

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Posted: 25 November 2011 05:18 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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Etymonline says on “bird"…

O.E., rare collateral form of bridd, originally “young bird, nestling” (the usual O.E. for “bird” being fugol), of uncertain origin with no cognates in any other Germanic language. The suggestion that it is related by umlaut to brood and breed is rejected by OED as “quite inadmissible.”

Brood and breed are from O.E. brod meaning “hatchling” can be traced back to PIE. I assume the good people down at the OED know what they are doing and must have sound reasons for utterly dismissing the notion that two words identical in meaning and differing only by a vowel might be related. I never lose sight of how ignorant I am: perhaps it just never happened that an ‘o’ went to ‘i’ in O.E., or perhaps they were never used in the same place at similar times. Would be interesting to know, because on the face of it it would have seemed a good lead.

EDIT: put the quote marks around etymonline’s words

[ Edited: 25 November 2011 05:22 PM by OP Tipping ]
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Posted: 25 November 2011 05:50 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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Liberman’s Analytic Dictionary of English Etymology has an extensive (many page) entry on bird.

The problem with an origin in the Old English brōd is indeed that vowel changes just don’t go that way. There is no conceivable way the long / o / could shift to an / e /.

It is possible to go from the Germanic *beran “to bear, give birth” to bird, and semantically this is very tempting given that the Old English sense was primarily “nestling.” But the earliest form of bird we have is bridd, and that means the < r > and < i > metathesis would have had to happen twice, once from < ir > to < ri > and then back to < ir >. That just doesn’t seem likely without any written evidence.

That leaves us with an “etymology unknown.”

[ Edited: 25 November 2011 05:54 PM by Dave Wilton ]
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Posted: 25 November 2011 06:28 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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Thanks, Dave. That sounds like a good book to have, and I can get a second hand copy from Amazon for only $18…

EDIT, oh wait, that’s just an Introduction

[ Edited: 25 November 2011 06:30 PM by OP Tipping ]
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Posted: 26 November 2011 01:14 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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It seems that at least some of the commonly used Old English-derived nouns we still use and which don’t have cognates in other European languages, start and end with a plosive consonant:

bird
dog
pig

Does this say something about the dialect from which they evolved, is there a pattern or am I seeing something that doesn’t exist?

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Posted: 26 November 2011 03:22 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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I think it would need some deeper analysis.  I mean a _lot_ of OE derived words start and end with a plosive consonant…

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Posted: 26 November 2011 04:26 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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Liberman’s Analytic Dictionary will set you back about $40, new. It’s not a comprehensive dictionary. It deals with a relatively few words, but in great depth for each one.

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Posted: 27 November 2011 04:44 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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which don’t have cognates in other European languages,

Nitpicking of course but in Dutch a young pig is called a big. WNT says that “Verwantschap met ne. pig < me. pigge < oe. *picga, pigga is wrsch. maar niet zeker”. So “probable” but “uncertain”.

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Posted: 27 November 2011 10:46 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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Has there ever been a language or time when people weren’t coining new words? Wouldn’t it be more of a mystery to find a language where every word had a direct derivation from some other word?

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Posted: 27 November 2011 04:00 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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Note that the fact that we can’t determine the origin of these OE words doesn’t necessarily mean they were coined completely afresh by OE speakers. They may have come from other local languages with which the OE people had contact (and which are scantly recorded now).

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Posted: 27 November 2011 11:38 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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As far as ‘pig’ is concerned, that is actually what WNT is suggesting as most likely explanation. They call it a (not PIE related) substrate language.

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