Thursday, January 6, 2022

Language Of Confusion: Guarded, Part I

First etymology of the new year! Aren’t you excited?
Guard showed up in the early fifteenth century as a noun, and then a little later as a verb. It comes from the Old French garder, to keep watch over or protect, from the Frankish wardon, from the Proto Germanic wardon, to guard. Yes, the W became a G. That’s actually common in words of French origin that were taken from Germanic. For some reason. Anyway, wardon can be traced to the Proto Indo European wer-, perceive or watch out for, the origin of just so many words that we’re going to look at over the next few weeks.
Regard is from the same place, although they didn’t tack on that useless U for some reason. It showed up in the mid fourteenth century meaning consider, coming from the Old French regarder, to take notice of. The re- is thought to just be intensive, while garder means look or heed and is descended from the same Germanic sources that gave us guard. To regard something is to really look at it. I’m just surprised that we’re two words in and Latin hasn’t appeared yet.
And that’s the last of these words with a G in them. Next, we’ll look at ware—both definitions, because referring to goods and to be aware of are from the same place. Ware as in goods comes from the Old English waru, which could mean merchandise but mostly meant guard or defense. Apparently an object you guarded became merchandise. The other ware comes from the Old English warian, to beware, and both it and waru are from the Proto Germanic waro-, from the Proto Indo European waro-, to guard or watch. Which of course is from wer-.
Wary is obviously from the same place, but of course it’s got to be weird. It’s just ware with a Y at the end, but it’s actually from a slightly different word. It showed up in the fifteenth century from the Old English waer, to be aware or cautious. That’s actually from the Proto Germanic waraz, so yes, ware + Y is somehow not directly from ware.
Finally today, we’ll look at ward. It comes from the Old English weard, which means guardian or watchman, from the Proto Germanic wardaz, guard. That’s from the Proto Indo European war-o-, which is from wer-, so it means that Proto Germanic threw a D on there and English ran with it.
Online Etymology Dictionary
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


  1. Most of it makes sense today.
    Although I still wouldn't be prepared to communicate if you dropped me in the 15th century.

  2. Weard isn't a precursor of weird?


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