or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Monday, November 06, 2006

Penetrating Insight

I'm perpetually fascinated by the fact that English has such a huge quantity of related words from various sources, and one of the things I recently discovered is even more fascinating: we have quantities of near-overlapping words from Latin and Germanic sources that are essentially the same except for the letters "-f-" and "-b-" respectively.

One example derives from the Indo-European root "bher-", which means "to pierce". German kept the "b-" and gave us "bore", but when the root reached Latin it was transformed into "forare", which gives us "perforate" ("to pierce completely through") and also "foramen", a medical term for a hole or opening of some sort.

There are a bunch of bores in English (yes, I'm setting you up for an easy joke), and they all seem to be unrelated. In addition to the "drill/pierce" sense, there's the "stultify" sense, which apparently sprang out of nowhere, the "tidal wall of water" sense, which likewise, and the archaic "past tense of 'bear'" sense, which is merely an artifact of pronunciation: it used to be "bare", as in "she bare him a child", but as pronunciation changed, so did the spelling, until it was codified. (The OED notes that "bore" appeared in the 1400s: "bare" is the only spelling that appears in the King James Bible in 1611, but Shakespeare used both spellings indiscriminately in the 1623 folio, so clearly that's more or less the point at which "bore" began to supersede "bare".)


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