In this modern world, most of us hear the word bank & think immediately of a financial institution. How did bank make its way there from its original meaning, a lump of mud?
Back in the 1200s, most the Scandinavian languages used a form of bank to mean a swelling or rise of soil in a sea, river or shoal. We still see this meaning when we refer to a river bank. We use the verb form when we bank up the soil to form a berm. When we bank the ball off a harder surface during a game of billiards or basketball, we’re riffing on the idea that something floating in the river might bounce off the river bank.
Some of the first bits of “furniture” were earthen structures — heaped up soil or dried mud. When the word bank made its way to Scotland, it grew to mean a raised area on which one might sleep, & the Scots called such a thing a bunker, which eventually broadened to apply to the building in which many sleeping spots exist. In time, the sleeping spots themselves got shortened to bunks.
In Old English, bank morphed into the word bench, meaning long seat. And since there’s not that much difference between a bench & a table, both bank & bench began also meaning table — giving us the word workbench & the table at which a moneylender might sit — a bank.
Do we speak some kind of nutty language or what?
My thanks go out to this week’s sources Etymonline, Collins Dictionary, Merriam Webster, Wordnik, & the OED.
I write for teens, narrate audio books, bake bread, play music, and ponder the wonder of words in a foggy little town on California's central coast.
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