Thursday, August 18, 2016

Language of Confusion: Hot…

Today, we’re looking at a bunch of words that mean things for hot. Because I’m still dreaming of my vacation and don’t really want to put much thought into anything.

Just eight days left, people.

Hot comes from the Old English hat, which is just hot and not something you put on your head. Earlier, it’s the Proto Germanic haita and even earlier the Proto Indo European kai-, heat. And yeah, that’s where heat comes from, too. No word on why we had to get rid of the K, but it’s probably for the best. Can you imagine if hot and cold both started with the same sound? That…actually sounds like something that would happen.

Warm can be both a verb and an adjective, and although the two are related, they come from slightly different places. The adjective is from the Old English wearm, (same meaning as ours) while the verb is from wyrman (also just warm), and over the years they just turned into the same word. But as to where they came from before, no one knows for sure. It might be from the Proto Indo European gwher-, which means heat or warm and is the source of those words in several other languages, or it could be from the Old Church Slavonic (the ancestor of Slavic languages, like Russian) goriti, which also turned into several different heat related words. Or it could be from something else entirely because sometimes no one knows anything about anything.

Burn actually has a date on it, having showed up in the twelfth century. Before it was burn, it was the Old English bryne—yes, the r came first! Bryne actually comes from three distinct words, baernan (to kindle) and beornan (on fire) from Old English and the Old Norse brenna, to burn. I guess when you have three words with similar meanings and spellings, you might as well mash them together. All those words actually come from the Proto Germanic brennan/brannjan, which in turn comes from the Proto Indo European ghwer-. So burn comes from the word for heat/warm, but not warm? What the hell…

Anyway, that’s it for today. More etymology next week! I can tell you’re excited.

Tony Jebson’s page on the Origins of Old English


  1. I just wish it would get warm here. I'm tired of being cold!

  2. I'm on the edge of my seat...
    You'd never know that burn was three words mashed together.

  3. Considering the myriad goofy things about English, I'd say we dodged a bullet on hot & cold not starting with the same sound.

  4. Baernan would be a good character name.

  5. I'm not even sure how to say ghwer.

    Are you going to look up scorching and searing, too?

  6. Hot and cold in English made it impossible for me to remember hot and cold in French. Because in French it was backwards, at least to my way of thinking. One of the many reasons why my high school French didn't stick.

  7. It has been TOO hot here in Germany. Please come soon, autumn!!

  8. Cool info. I can't wait for August to be over.


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