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Etymology gleanings for December 2019

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Once again, my thanks are to everybody who read this blog in 2019 and commented on its fifty two posts. However, I still have to wave a friendly goodbye to the ghost of the year gone by and do some gleaning on the frozen field of December. An etymological problem: Why are Greek grassidi “grazing field” and Engl. grass not related? It has, naturally, been known for a long time that Engl. grass and its cognates (they sound almost the same in the other languages) resemble Greek gráō “I chew, gnaw,” Sanskrit grásati “I devour”, Latin grāmen “grass,” and especially Greek grástis “forage, herbage.” Sanskrit and Greek words refer to food. Latin hordeum “barley,” another likely cognate, points in the same direction. In contrast, English (and Germanic) grass is ensconced in a different semantic nest. Its cognates are grow and green. To conclude: the Greek forms and its congeners in Sanskrit and Latin describe eating (and grass as food for the cattle), while the Germanic ones deal with vegetation as such. If they were borrowed from Greek or some other non-Germanic language, they would probably have taken over the connotations familiar in those languages. This is how etymology can disentangle a knot of seeming lookalikes and suggest a reasonable solution. Grass the Greek way, and grass, the Germanic way. Livestock image by stokpic from Pixabay. Landscape image by RitaE from Pixabay. A short postscript may be of some interest. If Latin vorare “to eat greedily; devour” (compare Engl. voracious) is related to granum, the ancient root began with gw, and, if hordeum and granum belong together, that root began with gh . The root of grass certainly began with gh. Were the picture clearer, we might even prove that Engl. grass and Greek grassidi do not belong together. At the moment, we only have a cogent hypothesis. This case teaches us an important lesson: words form groups and should be studied in their wider context. The distance from “grass” to “grazing” is short (graze is of. . .

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News source: Linguistics – OUPblog

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