Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Language of Confusion: Wind and Wound

Two words that can be pronounced in two completely different ways. We have wind—the synonym of wrap—which is pronounced like almost every other four letter word that ends in –ind. Then we have wind, a synonym of breeze or air, that rhymes with the first part of kindle or spindle. Then there’s wound (past tense of wind, rhymes with sound) and wound (an injury, doesn’t rhyme with anything as far as I can tell). What is the reason for these mysterious pronunciations?

Let’s start with the air wind []. It’s from the Old English word wind, which stems from the Proto-Germanic wendas, the descendent of the Proto-Indo-European wento—blowing. It did used to be pronounced the same as the other wind (wynd) but in the eighteenth century, the shorter vowel version became more popular.

Now, let’s look at the “wynd” version, along with its past tense version wound, both of which have the expected pronunciations. Both come from another Old English word, windan—to twist. Its Proto-Germanic version is wendanan and its Proto-Indo-European is wendh, both meaning twist or turn (Interesting side note of the day: wander shares the same Proto-Indo-European origin word[]).

Wound is (all together now) also comes from Old English []. Its origin word is wund, from the Proto-Germanic wundaz and Proto-Indo-European wen.

Why is it we in the English language have so many words that look the same and sound differently? Do we like to make things complicated? No, that’s not the American way. Actually, it all comes down to how we like to say stuff.

Languages are weird.


  1. I love learning where our language comes from. Fascinating.

  2. Ai yi yi. I still have trouble keeping all the "X is the same, but X is different" descriptive words in my head: homonym, homophone, homograph, etc. Being an English speaker makes life more exciting! Or something.

  3. Interesting etymology. It's easy for me to confuse both sometimes being that English is not my first language.

  4. This is a perfect example of why English is such a hard language to learn.

  5. English is confusing, no doubt. It gets more so when one goes from Maine, to live in Mississippi, or from Minnesota to Arizona. Why can't life be simple?

  6. The history of words is fascinating. I love the way language evolves.

  7. It's no wonder English is hardest to learn as a second language. I've always wondered why 'wonder' and 'wander' don't make the opposite sound - 'wonder' has an 'a' noise while 'wander' has an 'o' noise. Go figure.

  8. English is very simple, we've lost our Anglo-Saxon morphology, no more grammatical gender, hardly any verbal conjugations, no case endings save "'s". No noun declensions. Try learning Icelandic. The only hard thing is that it's loss of Indo-European inflections made it a more analytica-structured tongue. I believes this to ambiguity, not often found in Latin, Old English, Icelandic. All Europeans I know, say English is easy but for it's spelling.


Please validate me.