Thursday, March 17, 2022

Language Of Confusion: Spiked

As I mentioned in the previous weeks, while words with the suffix -spire are related, the actual word spire has nothing to do with any of them. Spire comes from the Old English spir, which means spire or the stem of a plant. It comes from the Proto Germanic spiraz, which is from the Proto Indo European spei-, a sharp point—and the origin of the word spike.
Spike showed up in the fourteenth century, its origins murky but thought to be Scandinavian. It is from the Proto Germanic spiraz as well, and so is also from spei-. This one makes sense, right? Well, time for it to get weird.
You know what comes from spike? Spine. Like the spine of a porcupine. Or your backbone, for some reason. It showed up in the fifteenth century, actually coming from the Old French espine, which could mean backbone or thorn. It’s from the classical Latin spina, which I’m pretty sure you know is spine, from the Proto Indo European spe-ina-, derived from spei-. Okay, thorn I get, but how do you get from that to spine of all things??? Although suddenly the word spiny makes a lot more sense.
But that’s just not weird enough. Spigot is also from here. It showed up in the late fourteenth century, meaning a plug used in a cask before it came to mean something that controls the flow of liquid, which it didn’t mean until the sixteenth century. It’s thought to be from the Old French espigot, from the Old Proven├žal espiga, which means… an ear of grain. Yeah, one thing I neglected to mention when going over spike is that it also has the definition of an ear of grain. You might not think it’s related to the other spike, but it’s from the Proto Indo European spei-ko-, which is from spei-, so an ear of corn is a spike of corn. I suppose an ear does look like a spike. More a spike than an ear, anyway. And now somehow it means a water valve. I don’t even know how to react to that.
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
Encyclopaedia Britannica


  1. Spigot and ear of corn - yup, that's weird all right.

  2. That is an interesting journey. (Did you know that the spine of a book comes from the spine of an animal? I'm sure you did.)

  3. Spike being of Scandinavian roots makes sense.


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