or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Friday, May 23, 2008

Boyish Charm

So I was listening to Haydn yesterday afternoon (the symphonies)--I like a lot of different kinds of music, bits of most everything except country and hip-hop, which can go straight to hell as far as I'm concerned except for respectively "Jolene" by Dolly Parton and "Yes Pants" by the Marginal Prophets, both of which are fantastic--and naturally, when you think of the name Haydn, you're going to eventually think of the word "hoyden" and wonder where it might have come from. At least you are if you're me, which I am.

A hoyden is a tomboy. Who says there are no exact synonyms in English?

"Hoyden" apparently came from Dutch "heiden", meaning, and strongly resembling, "heathen", which resembles "heath", as well it might, because "heath" means, or meant, "uncultivated land", and "heathen" originally meant "one who inhabits this land". (The plant "heather" is not related, though it is something which grows on a heath, but its spelling was influenced by "heath"; it began in English as "haeddre".)

"Heath", "heathen", and "hoyden" come from Indo-European "kaito-", "forest, uncultivated land". They are, to the best of my knowledge, the only English words which come from this source.

Some people might rightly wonder how a word beginning with "k-" can spawn words that begin with an "h-", and the answer is pretty simple: the tongue positions for pronouncing the two consonants are virtually identical, except that the tongue is touching the roof of the mouth in one, but not in the other. Even a tiny space will alter the sound. Say "key" and pay attention to what happens to your tongue; it touches the palate for the consonant, and then drops away a little to form the vowel. Now leave your tongue in that dropped position, and say "key" again without moving your tongue: you've just articulated "he", and that is how such a sound change can come about.


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