Thursday, December 12, 2019

Language of Confusion: I’m Cold Right Now

Seriously, I was chilly so that’s what inspired this. I’ve done cold words before, but not these ones!

Frost comes from the Old English frost, which could also be spelled forst (and both meant frost), because… I don’t know. Because. Both words were common until the late fifteenth century, where frost won the battle, I guess. The words are from the Proto Germanic frustaz, frost, which is from the verb form freusanan, to freeze. That word comes from the Proto Indo European preus-, to freeze or to burn. Speaking of freeze…

Freeze wasn’t actually how the word used to be spelled. It used to be freese or friese, coming from the Middle English fresen and Old English freosan, to freeze. That word was taken from the Proto Germanic freusan, to freeze, from the verb freus-, which is also related to the abovementioned preus-. As for why its past tense is frozen… there’s no good explanation for that. Sorry, that’s an unsatisfying answer, isn’t it?

A lot of these words start with “fr”, don’t they? Frost and freeze are related, so that makes sense, but frigid? Nope. Frigid showed up in the early seventeenth century from the classical Latin frigidus, which is just cold. It’s actually from the Proto Italic word srigos-, yes, an S! and that’s from the Proto Indo European srig-, cold. Come on! How do you get from an S to an F???

I’m going with this tense because it’s actually the first to show up in English, back in the late fifteenth century—refrigerate was in the early sixteenth century and refrigerator not until the early seventeenth century. Refrigeration is from the classical Latin regrigerationem, which means cooling, as the re- means again and the rest is from the verb frigerare, to make cool. That word happens to be from frigidus, which means refrigeration is from the same place as frigid. At least that one makes sense.

And I think that’ll be it for this week. I’m cold and tired.

Tony Jebson’s page on the Origins of Old English


  1. So winter is the time of refrigeration...?

  2. Interesting that there is no relationship between frigid and freeze.

  3. Friese - that would be a neat way to spell it.

  4. English has so many words which are not related yet comes across as related words like freeze and frigid.

  5. Okay... (I'm trying to think up something clever or pithy to say, and I've got nothing. Too bad we don't say frrr instead of brrrr.)

  6. Srig sounds like the sort of word a cat would cough up as a hairball.


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