or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Friday, January 01, 2010

Bless You

A whole new year lies before us, ripe with promises to be broken and mistakes to be made!

The promises, of course, come in the form of resolutions which we all seem unable to keep from making, resolutions we could have made at any time of the year--but then they wouldn't have the same impact, would they? And it's a given, a cliché, that most of them will not be lived up to. So this year I'm not even going to bother. I have a mental list of improvements to myself that I'd like to make, but I'm not going to kid myself that I will actually accomplish any of this. Then, if I do, I'll be pleasantly surprised, and a better person, too.

But don't count on it.


I am one of those titanic, cyclonic sneezers, unfortunately, and today I had a couple of doozies, after which I naturally found myself wondering where the word "sneeze" might come from, since it is a fairly ridiculous word.

Before I go any farther, I need to tell you that once upon a time, there was a typographic convention known as the "long s", which you can see here

in an image which I totally stole from this blog and will return if need be. (The blog is called Babelstone, and the entry on long ess--god, it is ever detailed and complete! I'm so envious.) You can read more about it as usual in Wikipedia, but what you mostly need to know right now is that 1) it is in fact the letter "s", but used at the beginning and in the middle of words, and 2) it looks awfully like lowercase "f" (except that it doesn't have a crossbar, but only a little stub on the left side), which 3) has led to much confusion and minor hilarity in modern times. "The faithful ftork"? Comedy gold!

Right then. The German word for "to sneeze" is "niesen", which is pronounced exactly like "sneezin'" without the ess at the beginning. This seems at first glance like a promising source for the English word, but where might that ess have come from? A mystery!

As it turns out, the progenitors or relatives of the German and English versions of the word include Old Norse "fnysa" and Dutch dialectical "fneizen". As soon as you see those, if you know that the long ess exists, then your brain has got to be telling you that because of the confusion between "f" and long "s", at some point someone turned a version of "fneizen"--to be precise, Middle English "fnesen"--into something like "sneizen"--again, to be precise, "snesen"--and that was the end of that. This, of course, is just what did happen, and so we don't fneeze, we sneeze. I certainly do.

"Gesundheit", by the way, I have already dealt with here.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Useful piece

Saturday, January 02, 2010 5:52:00 AM  

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