One Day in Late Spring

A linguistic map of the word "she"Just for fun—I think it’s fun, and this is my blog—let’s take a sentence and see where all the words in the sentence come from. Here is the sample sentence: He loved her from the day he saw her.

Studying the origins of words is called etymology. A complication is that for us, words consist both of sounds (the actual spoken word) and shapes (the way we choose to write the word). So for instance the word “night” can be considered for the fact that the medieval pronunciation, which more or less pronounced every letter, turned into the more simple way we say it today. Or we might consider the shift sometimes found in spelling from “night” to “nite”. Another thing to note about etymology is that we don’t actually trace words back to their origin, because who knows when the hell that was? Tens of thousands of years ago.

Anyway, let’s take the words of our sample sentence and look at each one. They all happen to be native Anglosaxon words, not borrowed from French or Latin or what-have-you. Since this is my blog, I’ll do this any way I feel like it, which is to give you a fairly accurate, linguistially correct explanation, followed by a more poetic version.

He: This very conservative pronoun has not changed in spelling since Old English (“þær he him gesægde soðwundra fela”). The word goes back still farther, to a much older root meaning something like “this”.

  • “He” is as old as the English language itself, here from the beginning, old and new at the same time.

Loved: Let’s take off the grammatical ending for past tense, so we have the verb Love. In Middle English, the word was spelled the same (“pepil of grete love and charite”) but it would have been pronounced differently. Going farther back, to Old English, it was spelled “lufu”. Think of “v” and “f” as sort of the same (wife/wives), plus an extra vowel. If we go back further still, we find the ancient root that also gives us the word “libido” through Latin, or the word “please” as used in the English phrase “if it please you”.

  • “Love” is changeable, sometimes pleasing, sometimes mixed with sex, and generally hard to understand.

Her: In Middle English the pronouns to describe women were a little chaotic, but this word was spelled either “hire” or “here”, with the final “e” pronounced “uh”. Taking the word back as far as we can, it apparently comes from the same ancient root as “he” above.

  • “She” and “He” are part of the same whole, two aspects of the same existence.

From: This preposition existed in Old English, but was often spelled “fram” and it did not have exactly the same meaning as it does now. It could mean “from” but might also have been used to mean “concerning” or “about”. Taking the word back to a more ancient root, that root has also given us the words “far”, “further”, “former” and very many more.

  • To know where things come “From”, we must go further than we have yet gone; we must ask about former things to know about now.

The: Yes, even a simple little word like “the” has a history. It came from the Old English word “se” which could be translated into modern English as either “the” or “that”. Most strangely, the ancient root of this word (far older than the English language) is also the root of the English word “she”.

  • “She” is the origin. Everything begins with “she”, starting with the earth itself.

Day: The older spellings of this noun are kind of cool. In Middle English it was either “day” or “dai”, and in Old English it was “dæg” though pronounced as if it had a “y” on the end, not a “g”. The ancient root was also the root of the word “dawn”.

  • However the day may change, it always begins with the dawn.

Saw: This is an irregular past tense from the verb See, instead of making the past tense with a “d” (the way young children might, who at first only know regular rules: “I seed him”). Taking the verb See, we find in Middle English “sauh” and “seyen”, and in Old English “seon” and “seah”. The ancient root also gives us the modern word “sight”.

  • From ancient days we have had sight, but rarely have we been able to really see.

And I wish you a good nite until the next dæg I write. Remember that you are one of the aspects of existence, but only one.

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1 Comment

Filed under Language

One response to “One Day in Late Spring

  1. declansynott

    This dawn, Monday the 14th, I am the insomniac, (L insomnious) and thinking of my own origins which go not back to Middle English but to Middle Class, Port Vue, Pennsylvania (1954- era Eisenhower) and suburban Pittsburgh, and an Irish man and a German woman-he a clerk and also a Clark. She the mother who remains, he the father now a memory. Quite fun and a cure now for insomnia. Thanks, David.

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