Wouldn’t you think the words farm & ranch would have pretty simple etymologies? I did, & I was dead wrong.
Ranch showed up in English in 1808 meaning country house. By 1831 ranch also referred to a stock-farm & herding establishment. What I find interesting, though, is the long, twisted road back to this word’s roots.
Ranch’s great grandmother-word was a Proto-Germanic word meaning something curved. Its next incarnation was in the Frankish language, where it meant row or line. From there it moved to French to mean install in position, and from there it became a Spanish verb meaning to lodge or station. From there, different forms of that Spanish verb were born, first meaning group of people who eat together, then mess hall, then small group of farm huts. It was this last one, rancho, that became the English word ranch in 1808.
The same goes for the word farm, which started out as a Proto-Indo-European verb meaning to hold firmly. From there it moved into Latin, meaning constant, firm, strong, stable. That form gave birth to a Latin verb meaning to fix, settle, confirm, or strengthen. And when Medieval Latin came along, a form meaning fixed payment was born. This word moved into Old French to mean a rental or lease agreement, & when farm finally made it into English in the 1200s, it meant fixed payment or fixed rent. By the 1300s, farm meant a tract of leased land, & it wasn’t until the 1400s that farm came to mean cultivated land. What a long, strange trip our simple four-letter word farm has had.
Thanks for coming by, & feel free to leave a comment about these long, strange trips.
My thanks go out to this week’s sources, Etymonline.com, Merriam-Webster.com, Wordnik, fineartamerica.com, Collins Dictionary, & the OED.
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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