Thursday, October 27, 2016

Language of Confusion: Words That Hurt

I’m still on the morbid etymology kick. What can I say? It’s October.

Death comes from the Old English deað, which is just death with a thorn in for the th sound. It comes from the Proto Germanic dauthuz and Proto Indo European dheu-, to die. Which is appropriate, as that’s where die came from, by way of the Proto Germanic dawjan. PS, the die that is the plural of dice is not even remotely related, which shouldn’t surprise anyone.

Kill showed up in the early thirteenth century as a word for strike or hit. It didn’t mean to death-ify someone until a century later! Unless it comes from the Old English word cwellan, which means to kill or murder. I mean, that would make sense, but it’s one of those ones that they aren’t sure of. What they are sure of however is that cwellen is the origin word for quell though. Because you know that makes so much sense.

Hurt also showed up in the early thirteenth century not just meaning to injure but also to bump/knock into. Sure. Why not. It comes from the Old French hurter, ram or strike, so apparently it was English that switched things up. Its earlier origins are less certain. It would make sense if it came from the Frankish hurt, which means ram, but it might be Celtic in origin, too. Basically, it’s a really hard to pin down word.

Another cheery entry! Agony first showed up in the late fourteenth century meaning only mental suffering. It comes from the Old French agonie/agoine, anguish or terror, and Late Latin agonia, which is just taken from the Greek agonia, anguish. It originally meant a mental struggle for victory or a struggle for victory in the games, coming from agon, which could mean struggle or game. Well, I guess struggling to win a game is agony…Or maybe that’s just for kids who were bad at Physical Education.

Tony Jebson’s page on the Origins of Old English


  1. I will quell you! Yeah, that's funny.
    Agonizing over something is mental, so that makes sense.

  2. Dauthuz would end up making for a good character name. A lot of these root words would!

  3. It does make sense if you're quelling a life.

  4. So to hurt someone is to hit them? What about injure?

  5. Well, I do think agony has a mental component to it. And kill means other things in other instances, too. (I'm thinking about comedians on stage...)


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