Thursday, October 5, 2017

Language of Confusion: Murderous Methods

Time for more etymology of scary things! Today’s topic: ways to kill someone.

Stab first showed up in the late fourteenth century, interestingly enough coming to us from Scottish the word stob, which also means stab. I think this is the first time I’ve ever featured a word of Scottish origin here. I can’t believe they’re the ones we have to thank for it!

Shoot comes from the Old English sceotan, which could mean shoot or drag or even move quickly. Makes sense since shooting does happen quickly. Anyway, it comes from the Proto Germanic skeutanan, which is from the Proto Indo European skeund-, shoot, chase, or throw and is the origin of words like sheet (seriously), shout, shut, and shuttle. But it’s the sheet one that really gets to me.

Strangle showed up in the late thirteenth century from the Old French estrangler and before that the classical Latin strangulare, which you know just means strangle. They took it from the Greek strangalan, choke or twist, from strangos, twisted. That word can in turn be traced back to the Proto Indo European strenk-, narrow or twist, and the origin word for string. Which you can use to strangle someone with!

Choke showed up in the fourteenth century as another word for strangle before morphing into to suffocate, like from swallowing something. Choke is actually from a former English word, acheken, from the Old English aceocian, choke or suffocate. Before that, it’s thought to come from another Old English word, ceoke, which means…cheek.

Suffocate showed up in the early fifteenth century, coming straight from the classical Latin suffocatus, which meant deprive from air. Or, you know, suffocate. It comes from the verb suffocare, to suffocate or smother, a mix of the prefix sub-, from under, and fauces, throat. And the origin of faucet! That makes more sense than mixing from under and throat and getting suffocate.

Tony Jebson’s page on the Origins of Old English


  1. Maybe people used to shoot sheets? Yeah, that's a stretch.

  2. I can see the drain being the throat, but not the faucet itself. Words are weird.

  3. You forgot the candlestick and the wrench.

  4. These are very good words to use to keep your mind occupied in the company of that idiot ex-brother-in-law whose existence you disapprove of and have occasionally thought of ending it, but self control got the better of you.

  5. Stab is Scottish? For some reason, that made me think of MacBeth.


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