Second main source further complicates English - Your West Valley News: Columns

Second main source further complicates English

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Max Oppenheimer

Posted: Thursday, November 1, 2012 12:21 pm

It’s fair to say that there is a great deal of work going on in understanding the speech center of the brain.

Neuroscience appears to be quite intent on studying and figuring out how the human brain works. I don’t know about the ‘how,’ but I believe many of our mental processes consist in comparing, detecting similarities. Language especially and quite logically operates by unceasingly finding new semantic associations, somewhat comparable meanings, in order                                                                                                to expand an ever growing vocabulary.

A word describing an action comparable to and connected with others can thereby be used in different ways. Etymology becomes more complex when as in English one language derives its vocabulary from two main sources, not to mention other secondary ones like Greek.

Before the Battle of Hastings (1066) and William the Conqueror’s Norman invasion, English, then just Anglo-Saxon, was based on Germanic sources. After that Norman French represented a second co-active source, a Romance language based on Latin, first mostly used by the upper or noble Norman social class. In English both Germanic and Latin-Romance semantic sources play a major role.

Take the term sport. In 1828 this English word entered French; however it was originally based on the French disport, desport, deport, meaning amusement, from the French reflexive se déporter, to amuse one’s self. What’s important is that it is primarily based on the verb porter, to carry, a handy semantic tool usable for many meanings.

English used French to form to deport oneself meaning to carry one’s self, in the sense of behaving or conducting oneself, while the obsolete English noun deport meant bearing, deportment. Note that to bear also means carry. With ‘de’ meaning away from, we have to deport and deportation literally carry out of, banish, and send out of a country.

Again carry out can then mean figuratively finish a plan or project. A porter carries your bags and with Latin cum, com, together, English to comport literally to carry, bring together, once meant to endure, behave, agree, as in: emphasis on the beautiful comports with the idea of culture; he comported with (endured) adverse times; he comported himself blamelessly; positivism comports an inventory of behavior, a description of conduct. Through folk etymology compote is fruits in syrup and retaining their form, while comport, compote, compotier can all mean a bowl shaped dish with stem to serve fruits, nuts, or sweets.

When the captain of the good ship Pinafore bade the sailor: “Refrain, audacious tar, your suit from pressing”, he little knew what a hornet’s nest of words he had knocked from the ship’s beams. Latin audire means to hear, hence audition, auditorium, audience, and audere to dare, hence audacious, audacity.

With regard to audit, the earliest examining of accounts was performed orally. The bookkeeper was given an audience, expected to speak loud enough, audibly, not to be inaudible. As to tar there’s more to it. The pay we are familiar with is one way of pacifying a person by giving him money. Pay is to pacify from French payer, from Latin pacare, from pax pacis, peace, whence pacifist.

Latin placare is to soothe, quiet, reconcile, appease with the adjective placidus meaning gentle, still, calm, placid. The Merriam Webster New Book of Word Histories (pp.139-140) inexcusably erred when believing sailors had a homonym of pay in mind meaning “to cover with pitch” for the saying “there’s the devil to pay and no pitch hot.”

This pay is not, as they claim, from Old French empoier, now poisser, French for pitch being poix from Latin pix, picis. “The devil to pay” here simply means it’s serious trouble, a devilish job, to service and tar the gunwale or gunnel right at or below the waterline, especially if the material for waterproofing is not hot.

To pitch meaning heave, throw, is not an early word, as it originally was a variant of pick, peek, first meaning thrust as in pitchfork. Pick is from Anglo-Saxon pycan, Italian picare, French pique (sting, prick), related to Latin picus, woodpecker. Tar is an old Teutonic term, Anglo-Saxon teru, related to tree, Anglo-Saxon treow, Greek drus meaning oak, Sanskrit dru, Old French drui, whence druid, and through Sanskrit daruna hard and daru wood, true.

You see in Gaulish, the Celtic language of the Gauls, druid was the expert of the Tree, here meaning dru, oak. The druid was a Gaulish priest with religious, pedagogical, and judiciary functions. Old Irish drui is wizard, daur oak tree, and even in Russian derevo is wood. Gallic is synonymous with Gaulish and also French in quality: Gallic wit.

To be continued

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