Thursday, September 10, 2020

Language Of Confusion: Air

Today we’re looking at words somewhat related to air because sometimes I have a hard time coming up with words to look at and just pick a random thing and do whatever I can relate to it.

Air showed up in the fourteenth century from the Old French air and classical Latin aer, which you know is just air. Not really much of a transformation through these, was it? Anyway, the Latin was taken from the Greek aer, and that’s kind of from an unknown origin, but may be from the Proto Indo European awer-, from wer-, to lift or raise. I mean, that does make sense, but you know how these words are. Case in point: air, as in someone’s manner, might not actually be related to air as in what you breathe. Some think it’s related since they’re spelled the same way in both English and Old French, but others think that the latter air is from debonair, which might be from the Latin word ager, which means place or field, of all things. That one’s just a theory, but stupider origins have happened.

Wind comes from the Old English wind, which just means the movement of air (and no, it’s not related to the other wind). It comes from the Proto Germanic winda- and can be traced to the Proto Indo European we-nt-o-, blowing, from the root we-, to blow (must resist joke…). Frankly, we could do a whole other post on this we-, and I’m sure I will at some point. There are quite a few related words to look at.

Gale showed up in the mid sixteenth century, where it was spelled gaile and… that’s about it. No one knows where it came from. One theory is that it’s from the Old Norse gol, breeze, or Danish gal, bad or furious weather. Another theory is that it’s from the Old English galan, to scream, which is what gales do… Fun fact: both gol and galan are from the Proto Germanic gel- and Proto Indo European ghel-, the origin of yell.

Next, gust showed up in the late sixteenth century and is yet another word with an origin no one’s sure of. It might be from the Old Norse gustr, a cold blast of wind (makes sense) or the Old High German gussa, which means flood (makes… less sense, but I guess maybe). Both those words are actually from the Proto Germanic gustiz and Proto Indo European gheu-, to pour, so I guess it doesn’t matter too much.

Finally today, breeze. It showed up in the mid sixteenth century (like most of these words!), although this one is kind of unique in that it doesn’t come from French or Latin. It’s from the Old Spanish (or Castillian) briza, a cold northeast wind, that changed to mean just a northeast wind, and then a wind from the sea. Nothing else is known about its origin (big surprise), but it’s neat that this is one of the few words in English that’s of Spanish descent. And Old Spanish no less. That might be the first time that’s appeared here in ten damn years of this.

Tony Jebson’s page on the Origins of Old English


  1. You would think a Spanish word would creep in now and then.

  2. Interesting that there are so few words with their root in Spanish. But then, I guess Spanish and Italian are like French and have their roots in Latin.

  3. I think I read somewhere that inspiration traces back to breathe somehow. Air made me think of that.

  4. We don't have air here, anymore, only smoke.


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