Thursday, October 19, 2017

Language of Confusion: More Deaths

First of all, the Online Etymology Dictionary updated its website and it’s awesome. Second of all, more death related words!

Drown showed up in the fourteenth century. It’s thought to be from the Old English druncnian, swallowed up by water, and possibly related to druncen, which means drunk (as in intoxicated) and drincan, to drink. And yes, that’s the origin word for drink, which is where drench comes from.

Starve comes from the Old English steorfan, which actually means to die, believe it or not, coming from the Proto Germanic sterban, to be stiff. It didn’t mean die from hunger until the sixteenth century, where “starve from hunger” was a phrase for several centuries. I guess they eventually dropped the last part, which makes sense. We have plenty of words for die but no other one specifically related to dying from a lack of food.

Bludgeon, a word I don’t get to use nearly enough, showed up in the 1730s with no real known origin. Some think it might be from the Dutch blusden, but they aren’t really sure. I posit that someone said it by accident once and it was so fun to say that everyone picked up on it.

Poison showed up in the thirteenth century as a noun and a century later as a verb. It’s from the Old French poison/puison, which was a drink, usually medical but sometimes also in the magic potion sense. Before that it was the classical Latin potionem, medicine, which, I mean, yeah, obviously that’s where potion is from. Anyway, potionem comes from potare, to water or to drink, which is from the Proto Indo European root word poi-, the origin of a weird number of words that you wouldn’t expect. Like, you’ve got imbibe on that list, and beer, and also symposium. And finally, fun fact of the day: in Old English the word for poison was ator!

Tony Jebson’s page on the Origins of Old English


  1. I'd rather drink a potion than a poison.
    And I checked - starve is the only word. The only thing even remotely close is malnourished and you can be that without dying.

  2. I think you should start using bludgeon at least once a day.
    Be belligerent about it.

  3. Blusden certainly sounds like the word you'd expect out of the Dutch language.

  4. So, starve is a shortened version of the saying. I wonder how many words got their start that way?

  5. You have to love a word that has no origin. You can make anything up about it.


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