Monday, September 5, 2011

Etymology of Meat

Meat: It’s what was for dinner.

Until around the 13th century, meat and its predecessors simply referred to ‘food,’ be it flora or fauna, including food for animals. In English, it traces back to the O.E. maet. The words mast (as in nuts and pig feed) and must share similar OE roots, maest and must, which respectively meant the juice expressed from grapes before the fermentation of wine.

There are a couple of different PIE roots referred to in the literature, but I’ve yet to find a coherent enough etymology of meat past Old English to merit posting here.

During the 1300s, meat became associated solely with animal flesh just as the Fr. viande underwent the same development. More figurative uses of the word did not appear until the turn of the 20th century, just as the commoners developed enough means to begin getting into trouble. Victorians began whispering in parlor rooms of a woman’s light and dark meat in reference to her breasts, as both genders slinked off to dimly lit meat markets. The appearance of still lewder uses of the term have been lost to the pages of early yellow publishing houses where seemingly few etymologists have dared to thread.

The use of meat as the essence of a a matter also appeared at this time.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Etymology of Gnome

After spending some time looking at how guttural phonemes entered English by way of Norse languages (so barbaric!), I recently found myself looking up some words with silent initial g’s and ended up following the origin of “gnome” down its etymological rabbit hole. There’s not a bit of Norse involved, of course, as its ultimate base seems to be rooted in the Greek base genomos, meaning ‘earth-dweller.’
Accepting this as the root, however, takes a bit of a leap of faith. The clearest trail stops cold in the Modern Latin gnomus from the 16th century revival which referred to ‘elemental earth beings,’ which can be traced pretty clearly up to the inanimate garden inhabitants we so know and inherit today. Others prefer to point a different trail for gnome that leads instead to gnomic, which meant ‘intelligence’ and was closely related to the origin of the term gnosticism.
My guess is that these conflicting etymologies are two sides of a single coin. If you happen to have a source that will clear this up, please comment below or message me on Twitter @etymologynow .

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Etymology of Freedom

The etymology of powerful terms like ‘free’ and ‘freedom’ reveal a lot about how attitudes about the implications of freedom have changed over the centuries. If you take a look at the etymological trail leading to the origin of freedom, you’ll eventually find that the root is the PIE base *pri- (*preyh2- or *preh2y if you want to get particular. Interestingly, the meaning of *pri is ‘love,’ which was incorporated into a variety of other terms in the years to come with meanings like ‘beloved,’ ‘help,’ ‘peace’ and ‘affection.’ Gradually, words like ‘free’ and ‘freedom’ came into its modern sense of not being bound by law, society, circumstances, etc, possibly due to the social divide between free and beloved friends and family members as opposed to slaves and servants.