The first recorded mention of the elder tree was all the way back in Old English during the eighth century CE, when it was spelled ellaen. Throughout the eons, it morphed in spelling, taking on forms like ellaern, ellarne, ellerne, and helren before adding a d in the fifteenth century with eldyr, eldern, and eventually elder, which became the standard by Shakespeare's time. Since the word has been muddling through the annals of history for so long, it's very hard to find its etymology (it has been reconstructed to Proto-Germanic elernaz, with the same meaning), but we do know that the d was probably added because people confused the tree with the alder, which is related to the birch and not a berry tree like the elder. The word elder meaning "older" is unrelated, but also comes from Old English, where it was spelled eldra, yldra, or ieldra. This would be from Proto-Germanic aldaz ("old"), which further traces to Proto-Indo-European hel, "to grow".
Adam Aleksic, a freshman studying linguistics at Harvard University, has been described as the internet's sixth most famous etymologist. He has disturbing interests in words, vexillology, geography, board games, limericks, and law, and he loves writing about himself in the third person.
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