or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Monday, June 23, 2008

Summer Sun

Yesterday morning was bright and sunny when we went to the supermarket for groceries. There are a bunch of cats who live on the way to the store, so I was hoping I'd see one or two: we both really like cats (but are sadly barren--no-pet apartment building). None in sight; I said to Jim, "They're probably around back basking in the sunlight." And then, of course, I wondered where the word "bask" might have come from.

You'll never guess if you don't already know! Never! Go on, give it a try.

My assumption, on walking to the store, was that it was probably Old Norse: the hard consonantal sound of it suggested as much. Beyond that, I was stuck. Lucky for me, Old Norse it turned out to be.

It started out nice, and then took a turn for the awful before nicing up again. It originated as ON "batha", "to bathe"; the reflexive form of the verb--"to bathe oneself"--is "bathask". After a few modifications, it ended up in Middle English as "basken", which meant "to wallow, as in blood", which is rather horrible. It eventually lost that Germanic verb ending and became "bask", and the sense of bathing in sunshine or some other sort of warming glow seems to come from Shakespeare's "As You Like It", Act 2, Scene 7:

As I do live by food, I met a fool
Who laid him down and bask'd him in the sun,
And rail'd on Lady Fortune in good terms,
In good set terms and yet a motley fool.


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