Thursday, October 29, 2020

Language Of Confusion: Mortality

Time for another redo! I definitely didn’t do these words justice when I did them the first time in April of 2011. And what better way to finish the month off than by looking at mortal words?
Mortal showed up in the late fourteenth century, coming from the Old French mortel and classical Latin mortalis, which is just mortal. It’s from the noun mors, death, which can be traced to the Proto Indo European mr-o, to die. That’s from the root word mer-, rub away or harm, or just die. It shows up in a lot of words, some of which make sense, some of which are like, what, really???
Morbid of course is related, having shown up in the mid seventeenth century. It comes from the classical Latin morbidus, which means sick or diseased, from mori, to die, and that’s from mer-. Mortify showed up earlier, in the late fourteenth century as mortifien and meaning to kill or destroy the life of. It began to be used in a religious context in the early fifteenth century, where it referred to “subduing the flesh” by abstinence and discipline, and from there turned into humiliate sometime in the late seventeenth century. The word is from the Old French mortefiier, destroy or punish, from the Late Latin mortificare, to kill. And that one’s also from mors, which we already know the story of.
Mortgage is related, although that probably won’t surprise anyone who has one. It showed up in the late fourteenth century as morgage, from the Old French morgage, which is literally mort gaige, dead pledge. Mort is of course from mori, so that’s where we get that.
Now for everybody’s favorite fun time activity, murder. It showed up in the fourteenth century as either murder or morþer, from the Old English morðer, which is just murder. It’s from the Proto Germanic murthran, and that’s from mer-. So while everything else is Latin, murder is Germanic, but they still come from the same place.

So that’s the mortal words, new and improved. I should probably update my etymology list to show the better version.
Online Etymology Dictionary
Google Translate
University of Texas at Austin Linguistic Research Center
University of Texas at San Antonio’s page on Proto Indo European language
Tony Jebson’s page on the Origins of Old English
Orbis Latinus


  1. Mortgage in this set wasn't something I expected. I can see the connection!

  2. They weren't very subtle when it came to mortgage.

  3. This one didn't go too sideways.


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