Despite the façade of a simple Germanic word, the term cheap has undergone some serious alterations. In Middle English it took the forms of cheep, chepe, chepen, ceapien, chep, and chapien. Meanwhile, the semantics were changing as well. Moving backward, it went from meaning “low-priced goods” to “a bargain” to “purchasing” in general to a “market”, where purchases were made. So, etymologically speaking, if you were to purchase cheap goods at a market, you could cheap cheap cheap at a cheap. Eventually, this hodgepodge came from Old English ceapian (“to buy”, worsening the mess), and that derives from Proto-Germanic kaupona, also “to buy”. Then, things get linguistically confusing also. Most Proto-Germanic words just go straight back to Proto-Indo-European, but this one is from Latin caupus, an “innkeeper”, which maybe from Pre-Mediterranean.
Adam Aleksic is a 220-month-old, 2800-ounce high school senior with disturbing interests in etymology, vexillology, geography, board games, limericks, and law. Adam will be studying linguistics at Harvard University in the fall.
The Etymology Nerd