“First loke, then aftirward lepe.”
This proverb was embraced by cautious folk of the British Isles during the 1400s.Though we spell things differently these days, many of us still appreciate the proverb, look before you leap. It doesn’t suggest we avoid risk altogether, just that we employ caution before doing so.
The word risk came to English in the 1660s, from Italian through French, though nobody’s figured out where the Italians got their form, riscare, which meant run into danger.
A near-synonym of risk is gamble. It seems to have jumped into Modern English sometime around the 1720s from Middle English, where it was the word gamenen, to play, jest, or be merry. Before that, back in Old English, it was gamenian, to play, joke, or pun. Gamble is related to the words game & backgammon & was initially considered slang, though nobody’s sure whether the distinction was made due to linguistic reasons or in condemnation of the act of gambling.
Another near-synonym of risk & gamble is the word chance. The noun chance appeared in English in the 1300s, meaning an occurrence, something that takes place. It came from Proto-Indo-European through Vulgar Latin & Old French from a word that also gave us cadence, cascade, cadaver, & accident. Chance didn’t take on a verb’s meaning, to risk, until 1859.
And when we look before leaping, we take a leap of faith, an idiom introduced in the 1800s by Kierkegaard. Leap came to English as early as the 1200s, from an Old English word meaning to jump, run, do, or dance. We can’t seem to trace it back any further, though it’s noteworthy that forms of this word occur only in Germanic languages. And the faith bit of leap of faith came from Proto-Indo-European through Latin & Old French. Its linguistic brethren include bid, bide, fiance, fiancee, federal, & affidavit.
Thanks for taking the leap of faith & reading this Wordmonger post. If you’ve got something to say about it, please leave it in the comment section.
Big thanks to this week’s sources: AnswerStand, Etymonline, Wordnik, LibraryOfTheology, & The OED.
Last week we considered some descendants of the Latin root cadere, to fall. This week we’ll take a look at some less likely descendants of that same word.
When the conductor’s baton falls it establishes the cadence, of the piece. Cadence showed up in English in the late 1300s, meaning flow of rhythm in verse or music.
The past participle of the Latin word cadere was casus, meaning a mishap, accident, chance or opportunity (not only can we fall on bad times, we can fall on good fortune). Casus gave birth to a number of English words, one of the first being case. Used as early as the 1200s to mean what befalls one, then in the 1300s adding its grammatical sense & the meaning an instance or example. From there it blossomed to include all the meanings of case we employ today.
In the late 1300s the word occasion came to English. It traveled through Old French from casus, & throws light on an occasion (or falling) being referred to with the idiom “what’s going down”.
Another form of casus/cadere is cidere. It brought us the word incident (meaning event) in the early 1400s. It also brought us recidivist, to fall back again, a word used to refer to one who falls back into sin in the 1400s & adding the meaning a relapsed criminal in the 1800s. Also born of cidere is the word coincide, meaning to fall together. Coincide showed up in the 1700s. And though a fallen apple might get turned into cider, there is no etymological relationship between cider & cidere.
When cadere made its way into Vulgar Latin, it was used to refer to the fall of the dice, then made its way through French to show up in the 1300s as the English word chance. In French law when land went to the state due to the lack of heirs, the Latin word excadere, to fall away became in French escheat, which made its way into English in the 1400s as cheat.
All from a little old word meaning to fall. I’m hoping, dear reader, you’ll post a comment. I’m particularly interested in which of these descendants of cadere surprised or intrigued you most.
Big thanks to this week’s sources: Etymonline, Wordnik, Merriam-Webster & 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.