Thursday, October 28, 2021

Language of Confusion: Crimes

Eh, these are kind of scary. At least, if you’re not the one committing them.
Crime showed up in the mid thirteenth century, although at first it meant a sin, like an offense to god, before it started to mean breaking the law in the late fourteenth century. It comes from the Old French crimne and classical Latin crimen, crime, but its origin before that is debated. One theory has it coming from cernere, to sift or to decide—yes, sift, from the Proto Indo European krei-, to sieve, and I have no idea how that works. The other theory is that it’s from cri-men, cry of distress, which makes slightly more sense. If you look at something like discriminate, the sift/sieve one makes more sense. Discriminate showed up in the early seventeenth century, from the Latin discriminare, to discriminate, which is actually from discernere, to distinguish, and yes that’s the origin for discern. Sift makes a lot more sense with that one.
Thief comes from the Old English þeof, thief, and that’s then from the Proto Germanic theuba-, and that has an unknown origin. Well, that was certainly a lot easier than crime. Couldn’t really find an explanation for the -f to -v thing that pops up in a lot of words. I guess F and V are just so close in pronunciation no one cares.
Robbery showed up in the thirteenth century from the Old French roberie. To rob showed up a bit earlier, in the late twelfth century, from the Old French rober, West Germanic rauba, and Proto Germanic raubon, to rob. And that one’s thought to be from the Proto Indo European runp-, to break. To rob: strangely consistent over the centuries.
Assault showed up in the late fourteenth century in its current form, but it also appeared earlier as asaut. It comes from the Old French asaut/assaut, from the Vulgar Latin adsaltus, a mix of ad-, to, and the Latin saltus, leap. Assault is to leap to.
Arson is fairly recent, having shown up in the late seventeenth century—before that, it was the Old English baernet, which is related to burnt. Arson comes from the Old French arsion, from the Late Latin arsionem, a burning, and that’s from the classical Latin ardere, to burn. That’s from the Proto Indo European root as-, to burn or glow, the origin word for ash.
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
Old English-English Dictionary
Dictionary of Medieval Latin
Encyclopaedia Britannica
Orbis Latinus


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