The word "triangle", though taken for granted, can be easily taken apart and etymologized under scrutiny. However, rarely do we peruse this triple-sided figure. Triangle is a loanword from French, where the word in turn derived from the Latin word triangulum. This was a neuter of the adjective triangulum. This is where the obvious combination of tri- "three" and angulum "angle" occurred. The prefix tri- is often overlooked in the grander etymology of this word, but it is nevertheless important and interesting. It comes from the Latin word tres (the etymon of three) and this came from Greek tria "three", from the PIE cognate trei. Angulum is a little less convoluted in its history, but has some interesting cousins. It can be traced back to the Proto-Indo-European word angh, or "to bend". This is related to the word angh, which was covered in yesterday's post about anger, since something bent can become "constricted", the definition of the latter PIE word. Next time you get frustrated by geometry, appreciate the irony.
We all experience anger from time to time, but few of us are aware of the many menacing words it spawned. Anger as a noun came from the verb, so I will address the verb. The word, interestingly enough, traces back to the Old Norse word angra, to grieve or be distressed". This comes from the Proto-Germanic word for "painful", angus, which is further hypothesized to have originated from the Proto-Indo-European root angh, "painfully and tightly constricted". Something metaphorically constricted in the sense of feelings is anger, which equates, so it makes sense that the word became figurative in Greek and obtained its current definition in English. The weird part about this is how many words derived from the etymons of anger. The word anguish comes from Latin through the same PIE root; just a sibling of anger. The word anxious also came from a Latin, but it was a different word that still traced back to angh. The word angst came through a bunch of Germanic words to us, the word angina (a type of throat infection) can be traced through Latin and Greek deriving from angh, and most suprisingly, hangnail has nothing to do with a nail that is hanging off your finger but (h)"ang"er that it hurts so much. It is therefore conclusive that anger has been an inspiration for many current English words.
I looked up this word in the hopes that there would be oriental origins, and I wasn't disappointed. Silk came from the Old English word seoloc, which came from the Latin word sericum, both of which had the current definition. Before that, it gets interesting. This came from the Greek serikos, later meaning "silken" and metynomically shifting from the earlier definition, which was "concerning the Seres people", a group in Asia who sold the silks to China. The etymological history at this point gets rather blurred, but most of my sources make a further connection to an unknown Mongolian word, which draws from the Chinese word si, meaning "silk". According to Chinese mythology, this came from the Goddess of Silk, the wife of an imaginary emperor who invented the material, but this can be discredited from a linguistic standpoint; it probably either came from earlier Chinese or Sino-Tibetan, but in any case the word silk followed the Silk Road to get to Europe (a term coined only in the twentieth century).
Etymologically speaking, the word birth should bring you good tidings. The earliest it can be traced back to is the Old Norse word which went roughly like byrthr and came from the Proto-Germanic word gaburthis. Both of these now-extinct languages had the same definition as in English for this word, which is unsurprising, since births are pretty frequent occurences. I mean, it's happened to everyone at least once, right? Gaburthis came from the Proto-Indo-European word bhrto, from the root word bher. Here at last we get a change in definition, as bher meant to "carry" (it's literally the precursor of the word "to bear"). Thus pregnancies and births are not just biologically correlated, but etymologically. A curious connection that can be found from this PIE root is that it lead to the Latin word fors, which lead to the Latin word fortis, which lead to today's word "fortune". Therefore, babies are more of a blesssing than one might think. The word born, as in "I was born sixteen years ago", is a forgotten past tense of the pregnancy word "to bear" and obviously also traces back to bher.
If you've ever had lemon, lime, grapefruit, or orange marmalade, in calling it that you are being etymologically inaccurate. The word marmalade came from the French word marmelade, which came from the Portugese word marmalada (which is a geographically curious transition). These words all had the same definition, but marmalada came from marmelo, which specifically meant "a preserve made from a quince fruit". Thus begins a long tradition of marmalade's etymology specifically referring to one fruit, as this came from the Latin term melimelum, which translated as "apple and quince fruits smooshed into one preserve". Going further back, the quince fruit got left out entirely, with the Greeks' invention of melimelon, or "apple honey". The meli ("honey") part came from the Proto-Indo-European word melit, meaning "honey", and the melon ("apple") part came from the Doric word malon, meaning "apple", which came from a hypothesized Mediterranean language I've already had several encounters with.
Happy new year and all that! 2017 is a prime-numbered year, and I wanted to usher it in with the etymology of the word prime. The farthest back that it can be traced is the word per, which everybody agrees was the Proto-Indo-European word for "before". Various sources of mine also list it as "forward", "before", and "through". In any case, in one form it meant "antecedent", and was antecedent to the Proto-Italic priisemos, which was kind of an objectively adjectival form of the former (I'm having way too much fun with English right now). This changed to prisemos, then merely to prismos, which jumped a rung into Latin and the word primus. This meant "first", specifically, but could be applied figuratively to one in power. Primus also gave us the Spanish and Portuguese word primo, meaning "cousin", and the false cognate in Italian and Esperanto, where primo meant "prime number" only. After a short time in French, it became the English word "prime", which meant "first" as well. This loitered around a while (spawning the verb "to prime") until it got picked up by mathematics, where a prime number is the first multiple of itself.
Hello! I'm Adam Aleksic, a junior studying government and linguistics at Harvard University, where I co-founded the Harvard Undergraduate Linguistics Society. In addition to etymology, I also really enjoy trivia, politics, vexillology, geography, board games, conlanging, art history, and law.