“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.
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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