or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Sunday, June 01, 2008

All Set

Indo-European roots have played a huge part in the development of English. No surprise there. Most IE words have a number of offshoots: some have dozens upon dozens, filtered through a number of languages. "Dhe-", "to set, to put" has well over a hundred, through Germanic, Norse, Russian, Latin, Sanskrit, Greek, and even Persian (though, unexpectedly, not French). We have graced "set" in English with a fantastic breadth and flexibility: it is a multifarious word, having well over a hundred established meanings, if you count idiomatic uses and phrasal verbs.

But there are some Indo-European roots that have had a much more limited role in English. A few of them, poor things, the ones that didn't die out altogether, left only a single child to carry on the family name: my favourite is the root "ais-", "to wish, to desire", which left behind a single scion, but a vital one: the verb "to ask".


By the way, one of the reasons "set" is so broad and diverse is that it's actually two words that happen to be spelled the same. The verb (and therefore the adjective, which is the past participle of the verb) is related to "sit", with the sense of "sitting; fixed; firmly in place". The noun, on the other hand, is related to "sect", and generally carries the sense of "a group of something".

On the other hand, there's plenty of blurring and intermixing. For example, the noun "set" meaning "bearing", as in "the set of your shoulders", is obviously derived from the verb, while some senses of the verb are purely idiomatic, with no obvious correlation with either the noun or the verb, as in the setting of the sun (as opposed to the setting of a diamond, which carries the verb's sense of fixity).


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