Weird Words of the Something

Language is beautiful. Part of my interest in storytelling as an art, is in the way people communicate their stories. I love discovering the origins of words, how their uses have evolved, and how they are related to other words. It’s why I receive reference.com’s daily Word of the Day emails. Based on this etymological curiosity and the fact that I took (and passed!) Linguistics 101 in college, I think I qualify as an amateur linguist (probably).

In his insightful The Power of Babel, John McWhorter likened the evolution of the English language to the building of a house: the frame (grammar, structure, basic phenoms) is Germanic, but the dressings and the interior design (verb forms, adjectives) is Romance, via Norman French and some Latin. This metaphor completely changed my understanding of my native tongue. Ever since, I have been fascinated with uncovering which words in the English language are of Germanic origin.

Weird Word of the Something

Girth: noun/verb, originating from Old Norse and Middle English

  1. the measure around anything; circumference
  2. to bind or fasten with a girth; to encircle, girdle

We tend to think of girth now in terms of physical size. Obviously, gird and girdle are the logical extensions of this word; the fastening of one object around another, and the object that is fastened. Belts and corsets can both be termed girdles, and are similarly used to provide a slimming effect to the human form. A garter is traditionally removed and then encircled around a “maiden’s” leg at a wedding (a tradition I despise). A girder is a support beam for a building.

***The More You Know***

Okay, I’ll stop. I may or may not do this again in the future, so non-word-nerds beware. And fellow word-nerds: do yourselves a favor and read McWhorter’s book.

Steve D

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