Saturday, 15 February 2014

The Rain It Raineth…

Here's David… 

This winter. 

Wet enough for you?

Well, if it’s any, er, consolation the word winter is cognate with the word wet. And indeed with the word water. And – this one appeals to me no end – with the word otter.

It – winter – is one of the oldest words in English.

You drill down – do the linguistic equivalent of what in geology they call a core sample – you get Old Frisian winter, Old Saxon wintar, Old Norse vetr, Gothic wintrus.

And so on down to  the earliest form of the word – its pre-Cambrian incarnation if you will – its Indo-European progenitor wed and wod and ud, meaning to be wet.

And as long as we’re at it, the word winter makes its appearance in English – well, Old English – in Alfred the Great’s translation, c. 888, of Boethius’ Consolations of Philosophy. (Ergo the “er, consolation” up above.)

The line in question reads: On sumera hit bið wearm & on wintra ceald.

Pleasing to think that the word winter debuts in English in the last great Western work of the classical period.

So, yes, winter > wet, water, cold. And otter.

And  summer? To which we’re all looking forward. Or are we? All? Pulling this together at breakfast I glance at the front page of today’s Guardian. And learn another word. The story – I couldn’t bear to read it – was about pressure on Education Secretary Michael Gove to do something about female circumcision. Do it now. While there’s time. Before summer gets here.

Summer. The “cutting season” as they call it in those parts of the world.

A new word – an open compound I wish I hadn’t learned.

Something about summer I wish I didn’t know.

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