Thursday, July 25, 2019

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

Are we done yet? Oh. No. No we’re not. Maybe next week in what’s the longest etymology series ever. If by now you don’t know that case (like a container) is from the Proto Indo European kap-, to hold/grasp, and isn’t related to case (situation), where the hell have you been?

First this week, catch. This isn’t wholly crazy since catching something is “holding” it, which relates back to kap-. Catch itself showed up in the thirteenth century from the Anglo French or Old North French cachier, to catch animals. It’s from the Vulgar Latin captiare, chase or try to seize, from the classical Latin captare, to catch, and that’s the frequentative of capere, to take or hold and a word that’s appeared many times in this series. Nice how sensible this one is, because I’m sure the rest won’t be.

That chase bit is actually kind of significant because, guess where chase comes from? It showed up in the fourteenth century from the Old French chacier (which is actually related to the abovementioned cachier). It’s also from captiare and captare, so nothing new here. I guess this word evolved in the sense of pursuing something to try to catch it.

And there’s also cop. Like you would cop a feel, or like a police officer—they’re from the same place (so yes, the slang copper is related to this, not the metal). Cop actually only showed up in British English in 1704 as a verb, and then not until the noun for police until 1859. It’s origin is actually uncertain, but it’s thought to be from the Middle French caper, seize or take, which is from the Latin capere. Oh, and no, that’s not where caper comes from. Don’t be silly. However I should point out that it’s also possible that cop is from the Dutch word kapen, to take (that also doesn’t seem to be from kap-; weirdly, it’s distantly related to cheap). I guess cops are “takers”.

That’s not the only word in the maybe pile, although this next one makes a lot less sense. Cater showed up in the seventeenth century meaning providing food for, from the Middle English catour, a buyer of provisions. It’s from the Anglo French achatour, buyer, from the Old French achater, to buy. That’s thought to be from the Vulgar Latin accaptare, a mix of the prefix ad- (to) and captare, which we all know by now. I guess a caterer taking food to someone does kind of make sense. But it could also be from the Vulgar Latin accapitare, to add to one’s capital. I guess caterers do that in a way.

Okay, this next one is just weird. Recover. Not like covering something again, which is its own thing. No. Recover, like you would from being sick or something. It’s not related to cover! Like at all! It showed up in the fourteenth century from the Anglo French rekeverer and Old French recovrer, which could mean come back or return, or to get again (like getting something back). It’s from the Medieval Latin recuperare. You know, like the origin word for recuperation, which we talked about a few weeks ago as being related to receive.

Man, I’m not sure what’s going to top this one.



  1. Isn't language weird? It's a miracle any of us ever learn to talk/read/write.

  2. How long will it take you to recover from this series?


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