Thursday, July 31, 2014

Language of Confusion: Familial II

Yep, more of these. Shall we get started?

Apparently the reason daughter has a silent G in it is thanks to sixteenth century southern England—way to go, guys. Anyway, it comes from the Old English dohtor (no G there!) and Proto Germanic dochter/dhukter, and before that, the Proto Indo European dhugheter. Wow, that’s a mouthful. Don’t ask me how to pronounce it, I have no idea.

Son comes from the Old English sunu, which can mean son or just descendant (I think this means a daughter could have also been a son). It can be traced further back to the Proto Germanic sunuz and Proto Indo European su(e)-nu-, son. Apparently that word comes from the word seue, which means to give birth.

With aunt, we actually have something different going on here. First of all, a date; it showed up in the early fourteenth century. It comes from the Anglo French aunte and Old French ante (no relation to the English ante). Like most French words, it can be traced to classical Latin, where it is amita, a father’s sister (a mother’s sister is called a matertera).

Uncle showed up in the late thirteenth century, and like aunt it comes by the French/Latin route. It comes from the Old French oncle and classical Latin avunculus, mother’s brother (a father’s brother is patruus; too bad we didn’t keep that one; the double u’s makes it cool). It’s actually a diminutive of avus, grandfather, a word that can be traced all the way back to the Proto Indo European awo-, grandfather (or other adult male relative).

I guess our first degree relatives come from Germanic origins, and our second degree relatives come from Latin. We’ll know for sure next week when I post the thrilling conclusion to this series : ).

Tony Jebson’s page on the Origins of Old English


  1. So, what did we call those people before then?

  2. Hi Jeanne ... fascinating information on Familial ii - etymology is such a mine of information - I love it!

    Cheers Hilary

  3. Avunculus sounds like something out of a Harry Potter book.

  4. I guess I'm really an aunt then, and not a matertera. Cool.


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