Thursday, June 16, 2022

Language Of Confusion: -Fer, Redux, Part II

There are quite a few words left to get into with this. And that’s not even getting into the ones without -fer in them, but are in fact descended from the Proto Indo European bher-, to bear or carry.
First today, offer comes from the Middle English offeren, from the Old English ofrian, kind of shocking after everything last week coming from French. But it does come from the classical Latin offerre, to offer, a mix of ob-, to, and ferre, to bear. To offer is to bear/carry to. I can’t believe it! It makes sense!!!
Transfer showed up in the late fourteenth century, from the Old French transferer and classical Latin transferre, which, you know, just transfer. Trans- means across or beyond, so it’s to carry across. Okay, after last week’s craziness with defer and differ, I expected a lot more insanity. What is going on here?
Suffer is fairly old, having showed up in the mid thirteenth century, meaning pretty much what it does now. It comes from the Anglo French suffrir and Old French sofrir, from the Vulgar Latin sufferire and classical Latin sufferer, to endure. The prefix comes from sub-, under, so the word is to carry or bear under. Man, these words are so boring.
How about proffer? Maybe that’s better. It showed up in the fourteenth century meaning to present yourself or to hand over and shortly after became to make an offer. It’s from the Anglo French profrier and before that the Old French poroffrir, which is actually a mix of the prefix pro- (forward) and offer. Nope. Not more interesting. How disappointing.
Okay, we’ll look at conifer. That has to do with trees, so that must be interesting. It showed up relatively late, in 1847, from the classical Latin conifer, which just means coniferous. The con- part does not come from com- (together) like confer does, but instead the word cone, which makes sense. Conifers are so called because they are cone bearing trees, and cone + ferre is literally cone bearing.
Lastly this week, aquifer. It showed up even later than conifer, in 1897, and it doesn’t even have a Latin equivalent. English just took aqua (water) and put it in front of -fer, because aquifer bears water. Damn it, did we do all the good words last week???
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
Encyclopaedia Britannica
Fordham University


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