Thursday, December 14, 2017

Language of Confusion: Other Lows

Now for other things kind of related to things going down.


Trip showed up in the late fourteenth century meaning skip, dance, caper (how often do you hear that word) or basically step lightly. So pretty different from what we know it as. It didn’t mean to fall over something until a century later and there’s nothing about how it managed to go from one to almost the complete opposite, but it’s from the Old French triper, jump/dance around or to strike with the feet. I guess it must have just gone back to the other Old French definition (although to strike something with your foot isn’t necessarily to trip over it).

Fall showed up in the thirteenth century, coming from the Old English feallan, which is just fall. It’s from the Proto Germanic fallan and the Proto Indo European pol-, to fall. And of course the reason that autumn is also called fall is because in the mid sixteenth century people used to say “fall of leaves”. Then, as always, they got lazy.

Slip showed up in the early fourteenth century in the sense that one would “slip away” from something, while the slip and fall sense didn’t come until the mid fourteenth century. It’s believed to be related to the Middle Low German slippen, glide or slide, from the Proto Germanic slipan and Proto Indo European sleib and its root word (s)lei-, which means…slimy, sticky, or slippery. And is where slime comes from. Oh and because things weren’t weird enough, while a woman’s slip is probably related (because it’s something that’s easy to slip in and out of it’s related to slip away), the slip that’s in pink slip is not.

Drop comes from the Old English dropian (the verb to drop) and dropa (the noun drop). Originally, they had to do with liquid, like dropa was a drop of liquid, not a fall, and dropian was to fall in drops like rain. It wasn’t until later that it took on the meaning of anything dropping down. At least I can at least see the logic in that progression. The words come from the Proto Germanic drupon and Proto Indo European dhreu and…that’s it, it looks like.

Sink showed up in the early fifteenth century as a noun meaning a cesspool (or place where sewage collected) and as a verb sometime before that. It comes from the Old English sincan, to sink, Proto Germanic senkwan, and Proto Indo European sengw-, also to sink. Now as for the reason that we clean dishes in a sink and it is no longer a cesspool, it’s because in the late fifteenth century it came to mean a drain for carrying water, and then it became a “shallow basin” with a pipe to drain dirty water, and then calling it a sink in general just stuck I guess.

Tony Jebson’s page on the Origins of Old English


  1. From a cesspool to the bathroom sink. I guess depending on whose sink it is, it could be one and the same.
    I only hear caper as it relates to a crime.

  2. When you trip and you don't fall, you trip. And it was caused by tripping even if you don't always trip when you trip.

    1. Later, I will have no idea what I just said, but it makes complete sense to me right now.

  3. "Then, as always, they got lazy."<--LOL

    Today it occurs to me that maybe it's just a slang thing. Teens started using words in a different way, and the meanings just stuck. Like, for example, "basic" and "extra" have whole different definitions when used with a teen audience.

    That's as good an explanation as any.

  4. Very interesting... I especially like the origin of sink.


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