In the late 1300s, English speakers adopted the word vulture to describe that large necrovorous bird we so often erroneously associate with buzzards. This, through Anglo-French vultur, Old French voitoir, and Latin vultur, eventually can be traced back to the Latin verb vellere, meaning "to pluck" or tear". It's pretty obvious how this transition occurred: the flesh-tearing bird eventually got metonymically named after the action of tearing. This has two possible proposed Proto-Indo-European predecessors: that it's from hwelh, meaning "wool", because you can pluck wool, or that it's from wel, meaning "to pull", because tearing and pulling are basically the same things. Either way, vulture has an interesting cousin if you're willing to follow me back to vellere for a moment. This later evolved into the Italian word svelto, meaning "lengthened", because things that are pulled out are lengthened, which would later mean "slender", because lengthened people are slender. Through French, this gave us the word svelte that we use in absolutely no relation to vulture today.
Hello! I'm Adam Aleksic, a sophomore studying government and linguistics at Harvard University, where I co-founded the Harvard Undergraduate Linguistics Society. In addition to etymology, I also really enjoy politics, vexillology, geography, board games, conlanging, and law.