Thursday, March 21, 2019

Language of Confusion: Can I Get A Witness? Part II

This week, more words that are related to the Proto Indo European weid-, to see. Some of them almost make sense!

Visit showed up in the thirteenth century from the Old French visiter and classical Latin visitare, which just means to visit. It’s related to videre, to see, which I mentioned last week as being related to vision and is derived from the above mentioned weid-. To see becoming to visit makes sense, since when you’re visiting someone you’re going to see them, right?

Next, evident showed up in the late fourteenth century from the Old French evident and classical Latin evidentem, evident, so we’re not seeing any big changes here either. Break it down and you have ex-, out, and videntem, seeing or sighted and from videre.

Wise comes from the Old English wis, which just means wise so no big leaps here. Before that it was the Proto Germanic wissaz, which was taken from the Proto Indo European wittos, which is an adjective form of weid-. The other form of wise, that’s part of words like clockwise, is also from the same place, just with a slightly different origin, being from the Proto Germanic wison instead. There’s also wisdom, which comes from the Old English wisdom and means wisdom (stop me if I’m going too fast for you), and is just wis- plus a suffix that means a state of. And don’t forget wizard, which showed up in the early fifteenth century from the Middle English wys (basically the same as wis) and -ard, which is kind of a weird word forming element that can mean names or pejoratives.

Finally today, advice and advise both showed up in the late thirteenth century, but back then advise meant to view or to consider, not taking on the current definition until a century later, probably influenced by the fact that advice (auys, back then) meant opinion. The words come from the Old French aviser, consider, and avis, opinion, which instead of being a prefix and a root word is from a phrase, ço m’est á vis, “it seems to me”. The vis part is derived from the classical Latin word visum, which is once again from videre, but it’s funny what a journey it went through to get here. Oh, and for the record, no, vice and vise aren’t related. That would be ridiculous.

And that’s all for this week, but no worries. There’s plenty of more weirdness to come.

Tony Jebson’s page on the Origins of Old English


  1. It mostly made sense - what is this world coming to?
    So many languages, so many meanings, so many changes - it's wonder any of us understand one another at all.

  2. But vice and vise aren't related? So confusing.

  3. I wonder how many words are derived from phrases.

  4. I'm always suspicious when these things make sense...


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