Thursday, February 9, 2023

Language Of Confusion: Verse, Part VI

Wow, this is still going on. There are lots more words that come from the Proto Indo European wer-to turn or bend. Things are going to get weird.
Seriously. Weird. Ever wonder where it came from? It showed up in the fifteenth century meaning having power over fate. What made it change? Macbeth. Specifically, eighteenth-nineteenth century productions of Macbeth, which had the Weird Sisters be odd looking, so by the nineteenth century, people started using weird to mean odd instead of controlling fate. The word comes from the Old English wyrd, which means fate, from the Proto Germanic wurthiz. That’s from the Proto Indo European wert-, to turn or wind, from wer-. You turn fate, I guess, and that plus Shakespeare made weird.
Next, worry showed up in the fourteenth century, but it meant to kill by biting/shaking the throat, as done by a wolf. Yeah. From there, it started to mean strangle, and by the fifteenth century, it was used metaphorically, meaning to bother something (as in, worry away at), and then, by 1822, it came to mean to feel anxiety. It comes from the Old English wyrgan, to strangle, from the Proto Germanic wurgjan, which is from the Proto Indo European wergh-, from the root wer-. A wolf biting something by the throat and shaking it back and forth turned into worry.
And to make things weirder, worth. It comes from the Old English weorþ, which is basically pronounced the same and means worth, honored, or price. It’s from the Proto Germanic wertha-, toward or opposite—like an equivalent, one thing being equal to another, showing its value. It’s actually not certain that it’s from wer-, but that’s the theory, and considering the -vert words often talked about turning towards each other, it’s not a crazy idea.
Wry showed up in the early-mid sixteenth century, where it meant distorted, not being likened to humor and wit until the late sixteenth century. It comes from the Old English wrigian, to incline or tend towards, from the Proto Germanic wrig-, and Proto Indo Eruopean wreik-, to turn, from the root wer-. So wry used to mean distort—and awry kind of still does. It actually showed up earlier, in the late fourteenth century, with the a- meaning on, so awry is distorted (or twisted, or turned) on.
Finally today, wrap. Yes, like a covering. It showed up in the early fourteenth century as a verb and late fifteenth century as a noun. It’s history isn’t totally known, but it’s thought to be Scandinavian, and the theory is it’s from the Proto Indo European werp-, turn or wind, from wer-, and it does make sense since wraps wind around something. But you know how these etymologies go. It’s just as likely not to be related at all!
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. Worry is kind of like being strangled...

    I always read wyrd in my head as "word". I should have been thinking it "weird". Now I know.


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