Nov 11, 2015

Etymology Expeditions: Frozen Words

In honour of Frozen Fairy Tales, I thought we'd look at some wintery words this week.

The word winter comes from Old English wintru "the fourth and coldest season, winter." The origins are probably in the Proto-Indo-European word wend from root wed- meaning water, so "the wet season." Another possibility is Old Irish find  meaning "white."

Ice comes from Old English is "piece of ice." The Online Etymology Dictionary lists lots of related words, but the origin is uncertain. Snow is also of Old English word snaw, from Proto-Indo-European root sniegwh- "snow, to snow."

Freeze is from Middle English fresen, from Old English freosan, from PIE root preus- "to freeze," but curiously it also means "to burn." Related words are Latin pruina "hoarfrost" and pruna "live coal." The meaning "to become motionless" is only from the 1720s, while the "perish from cold" meaning is from the 1300s. Interestingly, the word hoar seems to come from Old English har "hoary, grey, venerable, old," from PIE root kei-,  a source of colour adjectives. A possible explanation for this is thought to be the resemblance of white feathers of frost to an old man's beard.

What about the northern lights? Aurora borealis means "northern dawn," from Latin Aurora, the goddess of the dawn, from root aus- "to shine," and Greek Boreas "north wind."

I had fun browsing the related words. Here's a few interesting ones I found: gelid, from Latin gelidus, "very cold"; psychro-, a word-forming element from Greek psykhrein "to blow to make cold," the same origin as psyche; cryo-, a word-forming element from Greek kryos "icy cold"; frigorific from Latin frigus "cold"+ ficus "making" so it means cold-causing. Gradgrind means a cool, factual person, from the mill owner in Dickens' "Hard Times."

Okay, I need a hot cup of Earl Grey now.


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