Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Language of Confusion: Mortal Thoughts

I have to admit, I really enjoy puns.

Anyway. Words beginning with “mor” tend to have something to do with death. Mortician, mortal, mortify and of course, murder (okay, it’s a u, but that’s pretty close!). And what about mortgage?

If you look at Latin, “mori” means “to die” and that’s pretty much why so many mor- words have a fatalistic quality to them. It goes back even further, to that ancestor of languages Proto-Indo-European, where mer means die. Of course, the word the Germanic and Greek languages use for die comes from a different Proto-Indo-European word (dheu—to become senseless).

But “mer” does seem to be part of quite a few of our words. Look at murder. It, too, comes from mer. Unlike most of the “mor” words, it is Proto-Germanic, not classical Latin, in origin.

Then there are words like mortuary and moribund, both death related words. The former  comes by way of the classical Latin mortuus, the past participle of mori. The later comes from moribundus, Latin for dying (which is exactly what it means). The death part of mor makes a lot of sense, huh?

What about for mortify? And mortgage? Yep. Both of those had death related meanings. Mortify meant to kill when the word first showed up inthe fourteenth century. The word comes from the Old French mortifier and Lower Latin mortificare—to cause death. The “humiliation” sense of the word didn’t come until three centuries later (seems fitting to me!). Mortgage? Well, home owners will be amused to know that it is translated from Old French (mort gaige) as “dead pledge.” You pay until you die. ; )

Thanks goes, as always, to the Online Etymology Dictionary.
Special thanks to Google Translate, which I probably use too much.

PS. I won’t mention the contest today. Wait…damn!


  1. "Pay until you die" sometimes that's exactly what it feels like! Great post, I learned so much.

  2. LOL...when I saw mortgage twice, I knew where this was going. We never think much about some words, do we? :)

  3. One must feel sorry for anyone named Mort.

  4. Ha ha ha! I actually took a writing class once where one of our exercises was to pick a word, look it up in an etymological dictionary and then write a piece using the word with its original meaning.

    And I'm sure many home-owners are nodding there heads and thinking: "Yup - pay til you die, that sounds about right!" Lol...


Please validate me.