Thursday, July 18, 2019

Language of Confusion: Whatever The Case May Be, Part VII

The next installment of our somehow still continuing series about the words descended from the Proto Indo European kap- (to grasp). Yeah, there are a lot of them. You know what a big one is? Have.

Really. Have comes from the Old English habban, which is just to have, and unlike the previous kap- words, comes to us from the Proto Germanic habejanan instead of by a Latin route like most of the other words we’ve looked at have come from. If you grasp something, you have it, I guess. Lots of other words with have in them are also related—haven was haefen in Old English, which meant port or harbor in addition to haven. This one is actually from the Old Norse höfn, haven, but it too is from Proto Germanic, where the word is hafno-, and is thought to also be from kap-. Behave is the third have word we’re looking at, being a mix of be- (which is intensive here) and have. Apparently the sense is that you “have” (or hold) yourself in a particular way.

Next on our oh-my-god-I-can’t-believe-they’re-related list is occupy. It showed up in the mid fourteenth century meaning to take possession of as well as to take up space/time. It was borrowed from the Old French occuper, to hold or occupy a person/place, from the classical Latin occupare, to take over. The o- comes from ob-, which means over, and the rest is from capere, to grasp/seize/catch, and as I’ve mentioned before is from kap-. Take over—occupy.

Also related is forceps, which I have to admit, I can kind of see. It showed up in the midsixteenth century from the classical Latin forceps, which is just forceps (or a pair of tongs). The for- part comes from the word formus, which means hot, and the rest is from capere. See, it was originally something a smith used. So it was something you used to grab hot things.

Back to the words you’d never expect to be related. Did you think prince would show up here? Because it is. It showed up in the thirteenth century as the ruler of a principality, from the Old French prince and the classical Latin princeps, leader. It’s a mix of the word primus, first, and of course capere. To take first is a prince. Or maybe it’s “first taker”.

Tony Jebson’s page on the Origins of Old English


  1. That's an odd mix of words related to case.

  2. Ah, yes, the wonderful first-takers.
    And I'm gonna let that thought sit, because I don't even want to know where my brain is going with that one.

  3. Those are some weird roots for prince and occupy.

  4. Who knew how those words came to be! Prince, such a simple start.

  5. Well, grasp would be something that would be important. If you think about the things that would hold the most meaning, it would be talking about holding. Hands. (I bet hand would have a similar long list of decedents.) One would start with the most concrete ideas when creating language. What you can hold, grasp... Yeah, makes sense in a way.


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