or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Friday, April 18, 2008

Good As It Gets

The word "good" has a tiny etymology, but it's still very interesting because of how misleading it is, if you just glance at it.

It's pretty obvious, if you know any German, that "good" is related to "gut"--not our short-u "gut", meaning "intestinal tract", which I'll get to in a bit, but a long-u that more or less (a bit less) rhymes with English "boot". And sure enough, "good" is intermixed with some Germanic and Nordic words that mean the same thing and have a visible relationship to it: Dutch "goed", and Old Norse "gothr", which should ring a bell, and, plainly enough, Gothic "goths".

The Goths called themselves "the good [people]"!

Except they didn't. It wouldn't be a surprise if they had: there's a long history of tribes naming themselves "the people", while everyone else was "the heathens" or worse: Romans called the Barbarians that because of their inability to speak proper Latin, instead babbling away in their gross language that sounded like "bar-bar-bar".

"Good", and "goth", come from Indo-European "ghedh-", which sounds so much like "good" it's a bit unsettling; one of those words that just didn't change much in a couple thousand years. "Ghedh-" didn't originally mean "good" in the modern sense; it meant "to unite" or "to fit". The Goths, then, weren't good people in the modern sense; they were a tribe, a united band of people, and that's what their name actually meant.

There's still a tiny trace of the original meaning of "ghedh-" left in "good"; nowadays, something that's good is something that's fitting or appropriate, although it's such a basic word that it has expanded to a staggering collection of meanings, literal, metaphorical, and idiomatic: Dictionary.com lists almost sixty.

Knowing what "ghedh-" means, you will easily be able to make sense of the two other English words that stem from it, "together" and "gather".

As for English "gut", I'll leave that for tomorrow. It's big and messy and complicated. And fun.


Blogger Frank said...

I always thought they're had to be a connection to God and good, since it's gut and Gott in German, too, but I recall looking it up once and there didn't seem to be an obvious link.

Friday, April 18, 2008 11:27:00 PM  

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