Thursday, August 25, 2022

Language Of Confusion: Trees

Just going for an easy one today, as it’s my last post before my birthday (!!!) and I’m going to disappear for the next week or so. I can’t wait. Obviously this won’t be all trees, just the most basic ones. At least where I’m from.

Oak comes from the Middle English oke, from the Old English ac, so it was pretty close to what it is now. It’s related to the Old Norse eik and Proto Germanic aiks, which is apparently it’s final origin, as oak doesn’t appear anywhere outside of Germanic languages.
Maple showed up in the fourteenth century as mapel, and they switched those letters around sometime in the fifteenth century. It comes from the Old English mapuldermaple, from the Proto Germanic maplo-. Which, like the word for oak, is its apparent origin.
Pine comes from the Old English pin, though that word was actually only a part of other words, like pinhnutupine cone (yeah, it does sound like pine nut). It’s from the Old French pin and classical Latin pinusa pine tree. That’s traced all the way back to the Proto Indo European pi-nu-, from the word peie- to swell or be fat. In this case, the fat actually referred to the sap in the tree, though it’s still pretty crazy that fat is where pine comes from.
Elm comes from the Old English elm, and before that the Proto Germanic elmaz, so it hasn’t changed much over the last thousand years. That’s actually from the Proto Indo European el-, red/brown, which is actually the origin word for elk. So because elk and elms are both reddish brown, those are their names.
Fir showed up in the late fourteenth century from the either Old Norse word for it, fyri-, or the Old Danish word for it, fyr. Either way, both are from the Proto Germanic furkohn, from the Proto Indo European perkwu-, which was originally the word for oak. Really! It’s actually the origin word for the Latin species name of oak, quercus. They’re not even the same type of tree!!! Boy, I did not expect this to come full circle so neatly.
Okay, I’m off! See you in a couple of weeks!
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
University of Texas at Arlington
Tony Jebson’s page on the Origins of Old English
Old English-English Dictionary


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