Most of us do it every day, but do we think about the word? Here's a gander at the verb chew.
Not surprisingly, our modern word chew started out meaning to bite, gnaw or chew when it made its way from one of the Germanic languages into Old English, where it was spelled ceowan.
Both chow (1500s) & chaw (1520) are variants of the word chew. It’s also very likely that jaw (1300s), jowl (1570) and cheek (825) were born of that Old English word ceowan.
In other chew-related news, the Proto-Indo-European word mendh- which became the Latin word mandele, meaning to chew, gave birth to mandible, munch, mastic, masticate, mustache, paper maché & mange (a tiny bit of mildly disturbing imagination will help connect those dots).
Ruminate entered English in the 1530s, from Latin, meaning to chew the cud or turn over in the mind.
Champ, which came to English in 1905, meaning to chew noisily, is probably onomatopoeic in origin.
English is rife with chew-inspired idioms, including:
Chew someone out
Chew the fat
Chew something over
Chew something up
Bite off more than one can chew
Chew away at something
Chew one’s cud
Chew one’s tobacco
Mad enough to chew nails (in my neighborhood, we spat nails in lieu of chewing them)
I hope this post has given you something on which to chew. If so, please let me know what you’re thinking in the comment section.
My thanks go out to this week’s sources the OED, Free Dictionary, Collins Dictionary, Merriam Webster, & Etymonline,
Facial hair is an admittedly odd thing, as are the etymologies of the words we use to refer to facial hair.
The Latin word for beard, barba, is also the root for barber, & though it seems logical that the mostly clean-shaven Romans would have labeled those bearded, pillaging tribes barbaric because of their beards, I can find no evidence. Sources connect barbarianism with foreignness, rudeness, strangeness & a lack of culture, but to my surprise, the beards of the attacking Goths, Angles, Saxons, Jutes, Huns & Picts never enter the discussion.
The word mustache heralds from the French word of the same spelling & meaning. It entered English during the 1400s after making its way to French via Greek and Doric (moustakion & mystax respectively), all coming from mastax, meaning jaws, mouth, or that with which one chews. Having worn one for years, I can attest that, no matter what the Doric & Greek say, the mustache is not a very good chewing tool, but if allowed to grow long enough it can function like a whale’s baleen.
The noun goatee came to English in 1844 & was derived from the adjective goaty, meaning like a goat. Goatee is a direct comparison to the hairs on the chin of a goat.
The word sideburns was born of the unfortunate shaving decision of General Ambrose Burnsides, and appeared in English in 1887. Sideburns were called burnsides during & directly after the Civil War & mysteriously switched themselves around into sideburns twenty-some years later.
The bristles on an unshaven face were referred to as stubble in English as early as 1600, but the term stubble had previously been used in English to refer to stumps of grain stalks left in the ground after reaping. The word came from the French word estuble. Its great grandmother was a Latin word meaning stick or trunk.
Recently, the word scruff is being applied to facial hair. In the late 1700s scruff referred to the nape of the neck & came from Dutch, North Frisian & Norse terms referring the withers of a horse. Those terms seem to have their source in the Old Norse word skopt, which comes back around, oddly landing closer to today’s meaning. Skopt meant the hair of the head.
Any thoughts on facial hair etymologies? Please leave a comment.
My thanks go out to this week’s sources, Etymoniline.com, The OED & Wordnik.
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.
To receive weekly reminders of new Wordmonger posts, click on "Contact" & send me your email address.