Thursday, March 26, 2015

Language of Confusion: Prepositions, Part II

More of this, and there are some interesting ones this time. Plus it’s my last etymology post before a solid month of etymology.

I know. I’m happy, too.

Through showed up in the late fourteenth century, coming from the Old English word Þurh underwent metathesis, which basically means metamorphosis, but with sounds and no possibility of superheroes. So Þurh (which would have been pronounced thurh) came into contact with gamma radiation and turned into “thru”. Before that, it was the Proto Germanic thurkh, which sounds like my cat coughing up a hairball, and then the Proto Indo European tere, cross over or overcome. And the word thorough is related, too, its Old English equivalent, Þuruh, descended from Þurh. Because of course it is.

Of comes from the Old English of, which was another way of saying aef, away or away from. So yes, of originally had pretty much the opposite meaning, but was used in Middle English (for some reason) as a translation for foreign words for of, like the classical Latin ex. Oops! We don’t have a good word for this. Let’s just change the meaning of this other word, then! Anyway, before English, it was the Proto Germanic af and Proto Indo European apo, away. Weirdly enough, apo- is still used today as a prefix before Greek words like apogee, which literally translates to “away from earth”, and apology.

For comes from the Old English…for, with pretty much the same meaning, and before that, the Proto Germanic fur. Its Proto Indo European ancestor is per-, and yes, that’s the progenitor of per- as well as fore. Per- was even more flexible then than for is now.

And the last word we’re looking at today is from, which comes from the Old English fram, which had some things in common with our definition, but more specific to “departure or movement away in time or space”. It comes from the Proto Germanic fra, forward or away from, and Proto Indo European pro-mo-, the pro- part of which gave us, shockingly enough, pro-. Oh, and the weird factoid for this one is that fram gave us the word frame. From and frame are related, fairly closely, too.

That’s it, everybody go home. The language is canceled. You don’t have to go home but you can’t stay here.

Tony Jebson’s page on the Origins of Old English


  1. I don't actually think you can make me leave, not without shutting down your blog.
    Or the Internet.

  2. I get a laugh out of "my cat coughing up a hairball".

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  4. Must read comment before hitting publish...

    When I was in the 2nd grade, we had composition books where if we couldn't spell a word, we could go and ask the teacher to spell it for us. She'd put it in the book, and we'd have it to refer to for the future.

    Being a timid child and a pretty good speller, I didn't use the book much. But one day I was writing something and the spelling of the word completely escaped me. Why am I telling you this? The word was "of".

    First word in the book. Might have been the only word (although it was a long time ago, so I can't be certain).


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