or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Mouthing Off

Yesterday I was fulminating about what I think is the misuse of the word "munch". Just now after having gotten up to use the can, I was lying in bed trying to get back to sleep, which is nearly always a futile endeavour, and I started thinking about the word again, because it occurred to me that it might be related to the French word "manger", which is the verb "to eat"; it's pronounced "mon-zhay", not "manger" as in "Away In A Manger" (although, as it turns out, those are, predictably enough, the same word).

But surely "munch" is onomatopoeic, I then thought. (This sort of thing is why I can never get back to sleep.) Well, can't they both be right? They sure can; the OED thinks that "munch" is a formation based on, as I also had thought, "crunch", influenced by French "manger".

And what about the skin disease called mange: is that also an offshoot of "manger"? Sure is, and why shouldn't it be? It eats the skin, after all (though it's not to be confused with flesh-eating bacteria, obviously).

I was on a roll at this point, so I remembered a much earlier posting in which I had speculated on such pairs of words as "bank/bench" and "drink/drench", so I figured, okay, what about "munch/monk"? Naturally, they're completely unrelated: "monk" comes from Late Greek "monakhos", from "monos", "single". You never know until you actually look them up, right?

But in poking into "munch/manger/mange", I also discovered something that I did not know; French "manger" comes from Latin "mandere", and doesn't the first half of that word look familiar, particularly when yoked to its meaning, "to chew"? Sure enough, it's the source of the word "mandible", or "jaw", the thing you chew with. Isn't that lovely? And here's something even more wonderful: apparently from an old Doric precursor meaning "upper lip" or "mouth" that also eventually led to English "mandible", Greek took the word "mustax", which we inherited as "mustache".


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