Thursday, January 20, 2022

Language Of Confusion: Guarded, Part III

We’re back! Time to look at more words related to guard, which is descended from the Proto Indo European wer-, to perceive or watch out for. None of the words we’re looking at today have a G in them like guard, but at least they have a W like wer-.
First we’re looking at reward, which I’m pretty sure I’ve already looked at, but it was like a decade ago. I guess this makes this a redux post. Anyway! Reward showed up in the fourteenth century as a noun, while as a verb it was spelled rewarden, though both basically had the same meanings as today. Both are from the Anglo French and Old North French rewarder, which is a mix of the prefix re-, probably just intensive here, and warder, look, heed, or watch. See, in Old French, rewarder also meant to regard, which makes sense with to watch, although I really don’t get how we got reward from that.
Award, which we also already looked at, showed up in the late fourteenth century. Like reward, it’s from Anglo French, in this case awarder, which is from the Old North French eswarder, decide or judge. The es- is actually from ex-, out, and, well, warder. Award is to watch out… well, at least an award is something that’s judged for, so it does make sense, although I’m still surprised the a- in the word is actually form ex-.
Next, steward. Yes, really. It’s from wer-. It comes from the Old English steward/stigweard, which could mean something like house guardian or housekeeper. The stig meant either a hall, building, or even sty, while weard means guardian or watchman and is from wer-. And you might be saying, wait, sty? As in pigsty? Yes, as in pigsty. A steward is a sty-warden. Now you’ll never be able to forget that.
And speaking of warden, it showed up in the thirteenth century from the Old North French wardein, which is from the Frankish warding-. That’s from the Proto Germanic wardon, to watch or guard, and I’ve actually mentioned that before when looking at guard, because that’s where guard comes from, and it’s descended from wer-. It’s not really a surprise that guard and warden are from the same place, it’s just weird that guard has a G in it.
Finally today: wardrobe. Can’t wait to see how this happened to mean a place where you put clothes. It showed up in the early fourteenth century meaning a whole room where apparel was kept, and before that just a private chamber like a dressing room—it didn’t mean a movable thing of clothes until 1794. It’s from the Old North French warderobe, a dressing room or place where clothes are kept, and that’s from warder, to keep or guard. We’ve also already mentioned warder, as it’s from wardon and wer-, and it just has robe at the end. A wardrobe is a place that guards clothes.
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
Fordham University


  1. interesting that all these seemingly unrelated words are, in fact, related.

  2. A place that guards clothes. I rather like that.

  3. Do you know how wardrobes came to be? It's kind of interesting.

    I actually did a bunch of research around ward and guard when I was writing House.


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