or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Presto Change-o

This morning I was reading something or other before getting ready to go to work, and the phrase "sleight of hand" came up (or popped into my head). "Now where," I thought, "could 'sleight' have come from?" And I could have just looked it up, which is what I do when I'm sitting in front of the computer, but instead I thought, "Can't be Latin, can't be French, sure can't be Greek. Probably Nordic. I bet that the root of it is 'sly', and the '-t' suffix is the same sort of thing as the one in 'height', the thing that turns an adjective into a noun."

And to my amazement, that's what it turned out to be. "Sly" is the source of "sleight" (which does, more or less, mean "slyness"), both of them filtered through Middle English by way of Norse.

And then, satisfied, I put my computer to sleep and went to shove my contact lenses in, and while I was doing that I thought, "Well, then, where did 'slight' come from?" Because, you know, homophones. And even though I didn't really have a lot of time, I knew I had to sit down and fire up the Mac and look it up.

Waste of time, really. The etymology of "slight" isn't known for certain; there's a small possibility that it's related to a family of Germanic words including "slick", "slimy", and "slippery", which doesn't, on the face of it, make a whole lot of sense, but it's all I got. (Wouldn't you think "sleight" would be a better candidate for membership in that group of words?)


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