Right now, the word quagmire means "a boggy area". However, it's developing a definition of "complex or messy situation" that will probably overtake the former in definition pretty soon. The exodus has already begun. Despite all that etymology in action, at its most literal, quagmire is a tautology, literally meaning "marsh marsh" in Old English. How? Well, quag is an obsolete word that meant "bog", from Middle English quabbe, "marsh", ultimately from Old English cwabba, which meant "to tremble", like mushy ground does underfoot. Further origins are unknown. Meanwhile, mire is a slightly less obsolete word meaning "muddy area", From Middle English mire, meaning "swamp", from Old Norse myrr, also describing something like a "swamp" and deriving from Proto-Germanic miuzijo, which can eventually be reconstructed as a derivative of Proto-Indo-European meus, which meant "damp", an obvious connection. So, if we neglect the redundancy of this pointlessly stacked word, we can fully trace quagmire as meaning "damp tremble".
Hello! I'm Adam Aleksic. This year, I graduated from Harvard University with a degree in Government and Linguistics. There, I co-founded the Harvard Undergraduate Linguistics Society and wrote a thesis on Serbo-Croatian language policy, magna cum laude. In addition to etymology, I also really enjoy philosophy, trivia, vexillology, geography, board games, conlanging, art history, and law.