Thursday, January 13, 2022

Language Of Confusion: Guarded, Part II

This week, we continue our look at words related to guard by looking at words that look nothing like guard. But they are related! All of them come from the Proto Indo European wer-, to perceive or watch out for. All the words today have ware in them.
Aware comes from the Old English gewaer, aware—yes, it once had a g in it! There’s no explanation for why they dropped that letter, though. Gewaer comes from the Proto Germanic ga-waraz, where ga- is an intensive prefix and waraz, meaning wary or cautious, is from wer-. So to be aware is to be very cautious, and somehow even though a- is a prefix on its own, the a in aware is not from that. Words are so stupid sometimes.
Next we’re looking at beware, and I’m predicting it will be less related to aware than I think. It showed up in the thirteenth century and is thought to simply be making the phrase “be ware” into one word. That’s really it. Be- is also a prefix on its own, but that’s not what it is here. It’s the word be, which is distinct from the prefix, as the prefix is (stick with me here) from the word by. Which is not related to be. How did this word turn out to be stupider than the last one???
Okay, let’s look at hardware, maybe that will be less stupid. It showed up in the mid fifteenth century meaning small metal goods—referring to computers obviously didn’t come until much later, 1947—and it’s just a mix of hard and ware. As for software, you know, the non-physical parts of computers, that actually showed up in 1851, but it referred to, well, soft wares, like cotton or wool. It meant literally soft wares until 1960, where it came to mean computer programs because it was the opposite of hardware. Well, this one is much less stupid.
Finally today, warehouse. No big surprises here. It showed up in the mid fourteenth century as a combination of ware and house, and it was a place to house your wares. Try to wrap your brain around that one.
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. Small metal goods for hardware - like hammers and stuff. Why they call it a hardware store, obviously.

  2. I'm surprised warehouse has been around that long.

  3. How did guard become things? Was that in last week's post and I just wasn't paying attention?

  4. I liked the way software and hardware have evolved. Software refers to only one obvious thing nowadays: algorithm. No one thinks of it as cotton and such soft ware! Good one!


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