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Fingers feel, or feel free!

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Now that I have said everything I know about the etymology of the word finger (see the posts on feeling fingers), and those who agree and disagree with me have also made their opinion public, one more topic has to be discussed, namely, the origin of the verb feel. These are the basic facts. The verb feel has been attested only in West Germanic. Old English had fēlan, from fōljan, and the forms in Old Frisian, Old Saxon, and Old High German go back to the same root. All the rest is intelligent guessing. Naturally, since the Germanic root is fōl, the search concentrated on the non-Germanic root pōl, with the p ~ f correspondence by the indispensable First Consonant Shift (my recurring reference is to Engl. father versus Latin pater). Long o, that is, ō, alternates with short a, that is, ă, by ablaut, and the root pal surfaced early in the discussion of feel. Latin palpare “to touch,” familiar from palpitate and palpable, presented itself as a possible cognate, even though the comparison ignores the presence of final p in palp-. That is what feelers are for! Image by Zeimusu, CC by-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons. The original meaning of feel was “to touch, examine by touching,” as in “We… felt over innumerable feet of dark wall for electric light switches” in The Great Gatsby (the beginning of Chapter 8). The metaphorical sense, as in I felt nothing, came later. Assuming for the moment that palpare and feel are related, we may wonder what the origin of the Latin verb is. Palp– begins with and ends in the same consonant and sounds a bit like Engl. plop or pulp. Plop is sound-imitative. Pulp, from Latin, is a word of unknown origin, and, incidentally, so is pulpit, also from Latin. One can always suggest a borrowing from an unknown language (and this has been done for pulpit), but equally probable is the conjecture that we are dealing with sound-symbolic or sound-imitative formations, even though it remains unclear what they “symbolize” or imitate. Engl. plop is of. . .

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News source: Linguistics – OUPblog

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