The Indo-European root that meant take or seize was ghend. It made its way into Latin as prendere, and made its way from there to many places. One of those places is the English language.
We find it in the word prey, which arrived in the 1300s originally meaning to plunder, pillage & ravage, all arguably forms of taking. Over the years prey has come to be both a noun & a verb. Its primary modern meanings are an animal hunted or taken for food & to seize food.
Latin for bird of prey was osprey, which showed up in English in the 1400s. Interestingly, Latin-speakers called the bird we now call an osprey an ossifrage, but somewhere on the way to English through Medieval Latin & Old French, the similarity of the two words confused things and the ossifrage became the osprey.
The word spree (meaning a drinking bout) appeared in English in 1804 from Scottish. Though its earlier source may have been the French word esprit, it more likely came from a Middle Irish word meaning takings or booty, which, as you’ve already guessed, came from the Latin word meaning take.
When we win something we take it home & call it a prize, & when we pry into someone’s life or physically pry something from its place, it’s another sort of taking, all from that same root.
When we take someone unawares we surprise that person. And when we take someone & lock him/her up that person becomes an imprisoned prisoner in a prison, all words that started out as a little word meaning take.
And a person involved in taking this for that is an entrepreneur, a word that appeared in English in 1828. Entrepreneur came from combining the Latin prefix entre- (between) with the Latin root prendere (to take or seize).
I’m hoping some of you will offer your take on all this in the comments section.
Big thanks to friend Aaron Keating, for suggesting this week’s topic, & thanks to this week’s sources: Merriam-Webster, Wordnik, Etymonline, Collins Dictionary, & the OED.
Words from dialects
In my world as an audiobook narrator, I occasionally find myself researching dialects, -- a rich source of words that are just plain fun.
Throwing an intriguing light on JK Rowling’s enigmatic headmaster, the word dumbledore became a part of the language in 1787, from a dialect spoken in the Cornwall region. It means bumblebee.
A Scottish dialect gave us spree, a frolic or drinking bout, which came to English in 1804 (though drinking bouts had been around for centuries).
A Kentucky dialect gave us splurge. Meaning ostentatious display, it came to English in 1828, possibly from a mashup of the words splash & surge.
From a dialect spoken near Norfolk, dumpling came to be officially a part of English in 1600. It may have come from a German word meaning lump.
In 1738 we gained the word kasbah (or casbah), which came to us through French from a dialect of north African Arabic. The original word meant fortress.
The Cockney dialect gave us ain’t. Well, sort of. In the early 1700s ain’t was considered a proper English contraction for am not. A century later, people started using ain’t to mean are not & is not, causing ain’t to lose favor among grammarians, oozing its way into the category of Cockney slang.
A northern British dialect gave us keister, or buttocks. This meaning arrived in 1914, extrapolated from earlier meanings of keister – safe or strongbox, & burglar’s toolkit.
And the Scots have keisters, too. From a dialect of Scotland we have the word fud, meaning buttocks. It’s a mystery where fud came from, but it is most likely from a Scandinavian source. Fud entered English in 1785.
And though I’d planned on ending with keister & fud, I can’t resist yen, which came from a Beijing dialect. Yen originally meant smoke, then grew to mean intense desire for opium. Today yen means a dreamy desire or hunger. It arrived in English in 1906 after making earlier attempts in the forms of yen-yen & yin.
Any thoughts on keisters, fuds, splurges, dumplings, casbahs, sprees, dumbledores or aunt's?
Big thanks to this week’s sources: Word Detective, Wordnik, Etymonline, & 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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