Thursday, June 15, 2017

Language of Confusion: And Slowly

Well, I did fast. Might as well look at the other side of things. Although I had a harder time coming up with words related to moving slowly. Isn’t that weird?

Slow showed up as a verb in the mid sixteenth century, and as the adjective we more commonly know it as sometime before the thirteenth century. It comes from the Old English slaw, which means slow, and before that it was the Proto Germanic slaewaz. Nothing particularly surprising here. Let’s go look at some other words related to slowing down.

Inert showed up in the mid seventeenth century meaning without force or with no power to respond. It comes from the French inerte or the classical Latin inertem, which could mean unskilled,inactive, or indolent. It also happens to be a mix of the prefix in-, meaning “the opposite of” here, and ars, art. Inert is being the opposite of art.

Brake showed up in the mid fifteenth century as an “instrument for crushing or pounding”. Which…is that how car brakes work? Apparently the word used to be used to refer to the ring through the nose of an ox, and was influenced by an Old French word, brac/bras, an arm. The arm was a lever, which became a brake, which became a word for bridle or curb before becoming a “stopping device for a wheel” in 1772. Anyway, brake comes from the Middle Dutch braeke, flax break, related to breken, to break. And that’s related to break, just kind of distantly.

Slug is kind of a weird word. It’s a bug, a piece of metal, a punch…What the hell? Oh, and the word for the thing that slithers on the ground? It didn’t mean that until the eighteenth century. Three hundred years earlier it was a lazy person, coming from sluggard. That word comes from the Middle English sluggi, which in addition to being the most awesome possibility for a plural of slug meant sluggish or indolent, and is believed to be Scandinavian in origin, although no one’s sure exactly which word it might be from.

Speaking of lazy, that word showed up in the mid sixteenth century as laysy, referring to people who were, well, lazy. Before that…no one really knows. Some people think it’s from the word lay, some think it’s from a Germanic word, or maybe Norse…It just kind of showed up one day.

Tony Jebson’s page on the Origins of Old English


  1. A slug was a person before it was a snail without a home? Funny.
    The opposite of art. Art is creation, so I guess inert - doing nothing - would be the opposite.

  2. It's fitting that lazy should have no particularly convoluted history!

  3. So we could say that "inert" is those without art?
    So most people.

  4. Words just show up out of nowhere? That's pretty cool, actually.

  5. Inert is the opposite of art in the sense of the opposite of being?


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