Our shortest words continued: “of,” “both,” and (again) “if”

Last week, we looked at the history of the conjunction if, and it turned out that the Dutch for if is of. The fateful question asked “at dawn,” when “Scheherazade” had to stop her tale, was: “Are
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Last week, we looked at the history of the conjunction if, and it turned out that the Dutch for if is of. The fateful question asked “at dawn,” when “Scheherazade” had to stop her tale, was:  “Are English if and of related?” Scheherazade at her best. Unfortunately (or fortunately), the existence of family ties between if and of cannot be posited, because Engl. of is an impostor: it emerged as an unstressed variant of æf (the letter æ, called in Old English studies “ash,” had the value of a in Modern Engl. am). The historically true form can be seen only in the prefix æf. For instance, Old Engl. æfgrynde “abyss” is the exact analog of Modern German Abgrund (the same meaning), that is, “off (the) ground.” The German word shows that the form of our preposition had an a-like vowel, and indeed, æ is what we have found. Engl. of, though a newcomer, felt quite comfortable in its new home and behaved like all social climbers: it ousted its “parent” æf and developed an emphatic form, namely. . .

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News source: Linguistics – OUPblog

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