or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Monday, November 05, 2007

Saving Time

In the UK, the word "cheap" shows up a lot, but not as you might expect it to.

It has a few meanings in modern English: in a positive sense, it means "very inexpensive", but alongside this is a close parallel, "shoddy; badly made" when referring to a thing or "miserly" when referring to a person.

Its distant root is also related to money. It originates in Latin "caupo", a tradesman or innkeeper; this was borrowed into various Germanic tongues and eventually became Old English "ceapan", "to buy". (It survives as well in the English word "capitalism" as well as the modern German verb "kaufen", "to buy".) "Ceapan" also became the noun "ceap", "trade; marketing; buying and selling", which led to Middle English "cheep" or "cheap", most usually seen in the phrase "good cheap", "a bargain", which then began its slow crawl to the modern use of the word.

Because "cheap" refers to marketing, you have the district in London called Cheapside, which sounds mildly hilarious to North American ears. In Bath, there's a Cheap Street--see?

(There's also a Quiet Street, which probably means what it sounds like, and a Gay Street, which probably doesn't.)

As Jim and I were bruiting about the word "cheap" yesterday morning on the way to the supermarket (we really were), he wondered if maybe it also lent itself to the name of the town Chepstow, which is on the border between Wales and England and which had been the train stop on our day trip to Tintern Abbey.

He's a clever one, is my Jim. Chepstow gets its English name (in Welsh it's Cas-gwent) from the phrase "chepe stowe", which means "marketplace", because it was once an important marketing town: sitting on the confluence of two rivers, it was at one time the largest port in Wales.

A couple more words from "buying-and-selling" sense of "ceap"/"cheap": the English name Chapman and the German name Kaufman both mean "pedlar" or "merchant", for obvious reasons, and a chapbook is a small book, usually of poetry, named after the person who sold it to you--a chap[man's]book.


Blogger kusala ~ joe said...

When learning Swedish (having studied German for many years), I was interested in the link between English "shop" and the German and Swedish words for "to buy" -- kaufen and köpa ("k" in the latter pronounced more or less like English "sh"). I wouldn't have seen the link so clearly if not for the Swedish pronunciation.
(oh, I'm joe805 by the way)

Tuesday, November 20, 2007 1:23:00 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home