or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Sunday, February 24, 2008

One Way

Yesterday I casually mentioned that Indo-European "wegh-" has "a great many offspring". I wasn't kidding. There are more than fifty, and if you count compounds, there are several hundred at least. You don't think I'm going to talk about every single one of them, do you?

Well, maybe I am, but not all at once.

Let's start with the simplest, most obvious ones that we get just by tinkering with the vowel. Modern German "Weg" equals English "way", and, unsurprisingly, they're both from "wegh-"; in fact, the Old English word for "way" was also "weg". An early meaning was "road", which sense it still sometimes takes; more generalized and often metaphorical senses came later. All "way" words are therefore from this source, including "always" ("by all roads") and "anyway" ("by any road"). "Away" is also of course a "way" word, being a condensation of Old English "onweg", literally "on (one's) way" or "on the road". There are a couple hundred compound words in English using "way", such as "wayfarer", "getaway", "runway", and you don't expect me to list them all for you, do you? Boring. And pointless.

"Wig" is short for "periwig", which is derived from Greek "peri-", "around" or "about", and the "carry" sense of "wegh-"; it's hair that you carry around with you on your head instead of having it firmly attached there.

No, it isn't! That was something I just made up!

"Periwig" is actually a corruption of French "perruque", which also made it into English as "peruke", and nobody knows where it came from, except that the French got it from Italian "perrucca", and prior to that the trail is cold. It may be related to Latin "pilus", "hair" (which I mentioned just a couple of days ago), but that's dubious at best. I actually like my confabulated etymology a lot better.

"Earwig", on the other hand, most definitely is from "wegh-", which led to Old English "wigca", "insect", because of the way insects skitter about. The "ear-" part of "earwig" is just as you might think: it comes from the notion that earwigs enter the ear while you're sleeping. And then they lay eggs in your brain!

No, they don't.

This sense of movement was also seen in Old English "wegan", "to move", and "weg", "motion", which led to the words "wag" and the frequentatives "waggle" and "wiggle".

Tomorrow: messing with the consonants.


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