Apr 20, 2016

Etymology Expeditions: Underwater Words

In honour of The Little Mermaid, let's check out some words that have to do with the ocean this week.

The word sea comes from Old English  "sheet of water, sea, lake, pool,"which is from Proto-Germanic *saiwaz. Ocean, on the other hand, is from Old French occean, originally from Greek okeanos "the great river/sea surrounding the earth." This concept is personified in the god Oceanus, son of Uranus and Gaia.

Wave is from the Old English wagian, "to move to and fro."We get the word "wag" from the same root. Old Swedish and Danish have similar words wagga and vugge, which mean "to rock a cradle."

Too pedestrian for you? Well, you know me: mythology and monsters will sneak in eventually. Here you go:

Mermaid seems simple enough, from Middle English mere "sea, lake"+ maid, a shortening of "maiden" (fun fact: in the 12th century, you could use the word for unmarried men, too, as in "maiden-man."). Did you know that mermaids didn't actually have fishtails to begin with? It's the medieval influence of the Greek sirens that caused them to be depicted that way. Old English had another corresponding word: merewif, "water-witch."

Ooh, let's do a fun one next: the kraken. Turns out the etymology's bit boring, though. The word comes from Norse krake, "pole, stake, post, crooked tree, stunted animal or person." I don't get it.


No comments:

Post a Comment

Hello, stranger. What's on your mind?