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An etymological ax(e) to grind, followed by the story of the English word “adz(e)”

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Part One Wherever we look for the history of the names of instruments and tools, we confront a similar problem: the available material is either too copious or too scanty. Last week (March 11, 2020), we followed a hectic but inefficient hunt for the etymology of the word awl, and I promised a continuation: a post on adz (spelled as adze in British English). An adz is an ax (incidentally, in British English, ax is also spelled with an e: axe; Americans have succeeded in chopping off a superfluous ending, while in Britain it managed to stay), and a “disquisition” on axes should preface the main story. Nowadays, such disquisitions are usually called discourses. These are a few typical adz(e)s. Image by Walter Hough, 1922. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons. At first glance, ax and adz look somewhat alike, and the question arises whether they are related. That is why, before attacking adz, something should be said about the etymology of ax and its synonyms. The oldest Germanic form of ax is known from Gothic, a language recorded in the fourth century CE. The Gothic for “ax” was aqizi, that is, akwizi. Its obvious cognates are Old Engl. æx ~ eax (eax is a phonetic variant of æx) and æces, Old Saxon akus (Modern Dutch aaks), Old High German ackus (Modern German Axt, -t is excrescent and does not belong to the root), Old Frisian axa, and Old Icelandic øx. The Old English and other forms were recorded half a millennium and even 900 years later than Gothic akwizi. Along the way, the word seems to have lost one syllable, though it is not improbable that the earliest West Germanic and the Old Norse forms were always slightly different from the Gothic one. (Old English and its neighbors were dialects of the same ancient language, and dialectal variation is a universal phenomenon.) Although æx was the main Old English word for “ax,” it was not the only one. Taper-ax has also been recorded, a typical tautological compound: each component means the same (ax-ax; see the post for. . .

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News source: Linguistics – OUPblog

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