From the humble chip to the finest flour: an update on etymology

From the humble chip to the finest flour: an update on etymology

Among the words in this latest quarterly release there are quite a few etymologies of common words with long histories in English. Among those that date back to the earliest recorded period in the history of English (Old English) there are:

  • write, which has a secure history among the Germanic languages, with relatives similarly denoting writing or scratching, although the further origin is unknown;
  • thresh and its later variant thrash, with relatives referring to threshing corn throughout the Germanic languages, but probably originally having a broader meaning ‘to tread, step, pace’;
  • dark, some details of the earlier history of which remain (with no pun intended) rather obscure;
  • and bird, which originally meant specifically a young bird or chick, but whose origin remains a complete puzzle

An important medieval borrowing from Anglo-Norman is dine (from a word which originally meant specifically ‘to breakfast’ or ‘to eat the first meal of the day’), while curate is a medieval borrowing from Latin (originally referring to someone who ‘cared for’ the souls of his ecclesiastical flock).

Among words of later origin are:

  • hut, first attested 1545, and borrowed from French, which probably in turn borrowed the word from Middle High German;
  • trousers (1625) and its earlier variant trouse (1581) and the related trews (1502), which come from Irish or Scottish Gaelic (which in turn probably borrowed the word from French or one of its relatives)

One of the most complex, and difficult, etymologies of all the words in this release is shown by the humble chip.

We have also continued to update the etymology and variant forms in a number of entries which have not yet otherwise been fully revised, including divot, where we can now for the first time offer an etymology as (probably) another borrowing from Scottish Gaelic (like trousers), as well as documenting its rich and complex spelling history. Among the larger entries that have been updated in this way this quarter are horse, which can be traced back to early Germanic, and the medieval borrowing from French flower and its offshoot flour (originally a metaphor, ‘the flower, or finest quality, of ground grain’).

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