BROTHERS AND PALS
Five thousand years ago, Proto-Indo-European speakers on the Pontic-Caspian steppe used the word brahter to mean "brother". Obviously this went on to evolve into words like English brother and Latin frater, but far more interesting was the term's development into Sanskrit, where it was spelled bhrata and meant the same thing. That further morphed into Romani phral or pral, which was brought into Europe by the migrating Roma around the thirteenth century CE. By 1770, the word was being used in English to refer to accomplices in crime (perhaps due to mistrust of the Roma), but by the middle of the nineteenth century, it lost all consonant clusters and took on a definition of "compatriot" or "friend" - the word pal as we know it today! The verb form was first attested in 1879.
4/26/2020 10:56:25 pm
The French government sent king George III a set of porcelain dishes with handwritten sentiments on them after he recovered from his first bout of madness, around 1780, and one of them says, “The best of fraters.” The narrator says it was a spelling error and was meant to say “fathers,” but I find that hard to believe. Could the word frater still have been in use at that time to signify those in a bond of brotherhood?
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Hello! I'm Adam Aleksic, a senior 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.