Thursday, November 7, 2019

Language of Confusion: Choices

Here’s a bunch of words that are synonyms and I haven’t etymologized before.

Choice showed up in the mid fourteenth century, replacing the Old English word cyre, choice. It comes from the Old French chois, from the verb choisir, to choose, and is thought to be Frankish, or have some other Germanic origin, but it’s not really certain from where. Oh, and while it is related to choose, it’s not that related. Choose comes from the Old English ceosan, choose (and would have been pronounced “che-ozan”). That word is definitely Proto Germanic, coming from keus-, from the Proto Indo European geus-, to taste or to choose. Choice is obviously also from geus-, its origins are just murky.

Opt showed up fairly recently, in 1877, coming from the French opter, opt, and classical Latin optare, which is also opt. Option is older, having shown up in the seventeenthcentury. Once again the origin is French, where the word is option, and means option (stop me if I’m going too fast for you). The Latin version is optionem, and again, that’s just option and also from optare. It’s origin before there is unknown, although one there is that it’s from the Proto Italic opeje-, choose or grab. I know what you’re thinking. It makes sense, right? Which is why you should be suspicious.

Pick showed up in the early thirteenth century, except back then, it only had to do with the tool. It wasn’t until the early fourteenth century that it started to mean “to pluck with the fingers”, which by the end of the century turned into picking out something. So because fingers pick at something when choosing, pick became, well, pick. As for its origins, it’s thought to be a mix of the Old English pician, to prick, and the Old Norse pikka, to prick or peck. Both words are thought to be Germanic in origin, although it’s not known exactly where they’re from.

Annnnd I think that’ll be it for today. I know! So brief! Enjoy this rare treat.

Tony Jebson’s page on the Origins of Old English


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