Thursday, December 10, 2020

Language Of Confusion: Paint

Obviously not doing any holiday themed etymologies this year. I don’t even think there’s anything I haven’t looked at already. So today we’re looking at paint.
Paint showed up in the mid thirteenth century as peinten, meaning to represent something in paint, or to decorate something or someone with pictures. It wasn’t until the early fourteenth century that it meant coating the surface of something with a color. It comes from the Old French peintier, to paint, from peindre, which is also to paint (don’t ask me, I don’t know) and that’s from the classical Latin pingere, which could mean to paint or to make a picture. That one can actually be traced to the Proto Indo European peig-, which means… to cut or mark by incision. That might seem weird, but the theory is that it went from decorate with cut marks to just decorate to decorate with color. So painting has to do with cutting somehow.
Surprisingly enough, that isn’t the only decoration related word from peig-. Picture is actually also from there. It showed up in the early fifteenth century meaning the process of drawing or painting as well as a picture of something. It’s from the classical Latin pictura, picture, which is also from pingere.
The next of these somehow related art words is pigment. It showed up in the late fourteenth century meaning… a red dye. Yep, really. It wasn’t until the early seventeenth century that it meant a pigment in general. It’s from the classical Latin pigmentum, paint or coloring, and that’s from pingere, too. It’s so weird that they associated coloring with cutting!
The final word we’ll look at today doesn’t have to do with color, but does kind of have to do with pictures. Depict showed up in the early fifteenth century, meaning to portray or paint something. It’s from the classical Latin depictus, which actually means painted, from the verb depingere, yet another one of these words that just means to paint. The de- prefix means down here, and with pingere, means this word is “to paint down”. Sure. Why not.
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


  1. Another time when it all makes sense! What's going one?

  2. I think this must all be related to how colors evolve within cultures.

  3. Considering how important red is, I'm not surprised pigment comes from red.

    I do have a question for you. Studio, audio, video. I know you've done video, but I wonder if studio and audio come from similar sources. (I mean, likely not.)


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