Yay! It’s the first etymology of the new year! How is that not something to celebrate? Today’s word is ward.
Ward—just plain ward, not as a beginning or an ending to something—comes from the Old English weard
(noun) and weardian
(verb), the former being a watchman and the latter being to keep watch. So basically, the same word. They come from the Proto Germanic wardaz
, again, the noun and verb forms of guard. Both are descended from the Proto Indo European war-o-
, which comes from wer-
, to watch out for. Words like warden
and even wardrobe
come from ward. Seriously, wardrobe is from the Old French warderobe
, the idea being that it was a place to guard your clothes.
The suffix -ward is not related to the word ward because why would it be? It comes from
the Old English -weard
—which is actually different from the other weard because it’s a suffix that means towards
. That weard comes from the Proto Germanic warth
and Proto Indo European wert
, turn or wind, and related to the word wer
-, turn/bend and origin of versus verse
So that’s why ward and -ward are so different, but that’s far from the end of things. There are a lot of words with -ward as a suffix. Toward
for example is to
+ -ward. Similarly, forward
and backward are just fore (in front of
) and back
(I’m assuming you know what back
means) in the direction of. Although originally backward was “abakward”, making it to
-back-in the direction of.
Next, let’s look at award and reward, which seem a bit weirder when mixed with -ward. Award showed up in the late fourteenth century
meaning “a decision after consideration”. It comes from the Anglo French award
and Old French esguarder
. Yes, that’s a g in there, although it really is from the -ward suffix. The es- is from ex-, out
, and with warder, which in French was watch like non-prefix ward, making the word literally “watch out”. Which makes sense considering that awards are given out after “careful consideration”. Reward is somewhat similar in its history. It showed up in the early fourteenth century
, meaning to bestow or to give as compensation. It comes from the Old North French rewarder
, regard or reward. The re- prefix is just supposed to be an intensifier
here, so with warder it’s like to really watch. It somehow switched to reward (or regard) in Old North French. No idea why. How weird.
Next, words that seem even less related to -ward. Awkward showed up in the mid fourteenth century
actually meaning “in the wrong direction”. The modern definition came later, although there’s no reason why. Maybe because when you’re awkward you’re not really going in the right direction? I don’t know. But awk literally meant turned in the wrong direction
, so that at least makes sense. Next, steward. It comes from
the Old English stiward
, meaning housekeeper…or house guardian. Stig means a sty, a hall, or a building
, and ward meant guard here. So…house guard.
TL;DR: Ward and -ward aren’t related. The first means guard/watch, the second means direction.