The word milord brings to mind someone like Grima Wormtongue from Lord of the Rings, an oily, subservient creature bowing so low to some noble that his greasy nose scrapes the ground. Imagery aside, the word has a fascinating history. Contrary to popular belief, it is not a contraction of my lord. Rather, milord is borrowed from the French word milord, which in turn is an alteration of English my lord. That's right: milord was borrowed from a foreign word which was borrowed from a domestic word, an unusual exchange in linguistics and a textbook example of a semantic loan. Apparently the re-borrowing was meant to be ironic at first, but was soon lost in translation. My is a reduced form of mine, which is from Proto-Germanic minaz ("mine"), itself from Proto-Indo-European meynos ("mine"). Lord has a much more interesting origin: it used to be, in Old English, the term hlaford, which was a portmanteau of the words hlaf, meaning "bread", and weard, meaning "guardian". Thus a lord was a "bread-guardian". Hlaf is from Proto-Germanic khlaibuz, and weard is from Proto-Indo-European wer ("to watch out for, through Proto-Germanic wardon, or"to guard"). The term hlaford itself was designed to imitate the Latin word dominus, referring to a more powerful individual. There were also Greek and Hebrew influences in its construction; the fact of the matter was that aristocratic English people needed a good term to distinguish themselves from the plebeians.
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.