Thursday, October 10, 2019

Language Of Confusion: Cruelty

I mean, I guess these are kind of scary. Look, I’ve been etymologizing words for a long time. There’s a finite number.

Cruel showed up in the thirteenth century (as did cruelty), where it meant stern, then of suffering or death, before meaning “inclined to make another suffer” in the fourteenth century. It’s earlier form was crudel—with a d that was lost because of French influence—from the classical Latin crudelis, which could mean unfeeling or cruel. Now, that word looks like crude with a -lis on the end, and that’s because in a rare show of sense, that’s where crude comes from, although via the adjective version—crudusundigested. That can actually be traced back to the Proto Indo European kreue-… raw flesh. Wow. This one took a dark turn. It was very Halloween appropriate after all.

Ruthless was one I really wanted to do because while people say ruthless all the time, you never hear anyone say someone is acting ruth. Ruthless showed up in the early fourteenth century, and it was just a combination of the suffix -less and ruth. Yes, ruth is a word. It showed up in the thirteenth century as ruthe, meaning sorrow for someone else’s misery. It comes from the Old Norse hryggð, which is from hryggr, sorrowful or grieved—and the origin word for rue. In fact, it’s thought that the word is a combination of that hryggr and the Proto Germanic suffix -itho, or -th in English. You know how there’s true and truth? Well, there’s also rue and ruth. And before anyone asks, no, ruth the word is not related to the name. Not even a little.

Brute and brutal both showed up in the fifteenth century, although the former was early and the latter in the middle, although back then both actually referred to being animalistic as opposed to human, and not meaning savage and cruel until the seventeenth century. The brutal words are from the classical Latin brutus, which meant things like stupid, dumb, or even heavy. It’s origin beyond that is uncertain, although it’s possibly Oscan—an extinct Italic language, meaning one of the languages Latin overtook in the Roman Empire. It may be traced back to the Proto Indo European gwere-, heavy. I guess it’s possible, although the only thing the words seem to have in common is the definition of “heavy”.

And I think that’ll be it for this week, because those words had kind of a lot of information to them. Come back for more next Thursday!



  1. Ruth is a word on its own? I wonder when it stopped being used?

  2. I thought most names came from somewhere, although why one would use that original meaning to create a name...

    Hryggr almost looks like that big new word hygge (I think that's how it's spelled) that seems to be all the rage right now.

  3. I think I may have to start using ruth.
    Man, even spellcheck thinks it's not a word.
    Of course, spellcheck believes that spellcheck is a word.


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