Thursday, June 11, 2020

Language Of Confusion: Talking

I can’t believe it’s taken me this long to look at this word.

Talk showed up in the thirteenth century as a verb, and then in the fifteenth century as a noun. It’s actually thought to be from the Middle English tale, which… yeah. It’s just tale. The K at the end is actually a rare word forming element, though it has shown up in words like hark, which is from hear. I just thought that was a neat factoid.

As for tale, it comes from the Old English talu, which just means tale. It’s from the Proto Germanic talo, and can be traced to the Proto Indo European del-, to recount or count. That’s actually the origin word for tell as well, which comes from the Old English tellan, which could mean to tell but also to count. That word is from the Proto Germanic taljan, which is also from del-. And that whole count business is actually why a bank teller is a teller. Teller showed up in the late fifteenth century meaning a person who keeps accounts, and it’s almost the only way tell is used in the count meaning. But there is another. Have you ever wondered why you “tell” time? Well, it’s because you’re counting time.

That’s really it for this week. I guess it’s was a short one. Talk/tell was surprisingly self-contained.

Tony Jebson’s page on the Origins of Old English


  1. Well, talking and tales are important aspects of our culture, so it makes sense that the word hasn't changed much at all.

  2. That little bit about 'telling time' and its link to 'teller' is quite interesting.


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