A hearth is a significant place — significant in many ways. This is a tale of two hearths.
You can find the first hearth in many languages. Versions landed in Lithuanian, Russian, Gothic, Old Norse, Old English, Latin, & Sanskrit. Its source is the Proto-Indo European word meaning heat or fire. As one might expect, the English version is the word hearth. But this root meaning heat or fire also gave us:
cremate — to burn or consume by fire — 1620s
& cremation — the process of burning or consuming by fire -- 1620s
carbon — non-metallic element occurring in all organic compounds -- 1789
carboniferous — containing or yielding carbon or coal — 1799
carbuncle — originally a red, inflamed spot — 1200s
Our second hearth is less expected — nearly incognito. This group of related words came to English through the Latin word focus, which meant home or family, hearth or fireplace. In time it came to mean point of interest. Focus appeared in English in the 1640s.
Back in the 1100s, this same Latin root made its way through French & gave us foyer, which initially meant fireplace, but because a fireplace was often an amenity in the greenroom of a theater, the word foyer began to refer to the room for actors who are offstage. By 1859, the word foyer referred to the theater’s lobby.
The word fuel comes from this same root, & appeared in English about 1200. And in the 1300s at the end of the evening, one had to cover the fire — the Anglo French word for this practice was couvre-feu, which in English became the word curfew (it took until the 1800s for our modern meaning to come into existence),
And though it didn’t officially make its way to English until 1994, the word focaccia, a bread baked on the hearth, came to us through Latin & Italian from that same root meaning home or family, hearth, or fireplace.
May your hearth always be warm & may your words all have intriguing stories.
My thanks go out to this week’s sources: Merriam Webster, Collins Dictionary, Wordnik, & Etymonline.
I write for teens & tweens, bake bread, play music, and ponder the wonder of words in a foggy little town on California's central coast.
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