Sunday, August 3, 2008

Content from the Old Blog and Some New Etymologies - August 3 2008

Well, it looks like it's going to be easier to save the old blog's content as a web page (or several) at TOWFI. There is no easy way to import the old material into this blog. So that means the old blog material won't be available for a while. We have re-indexed our site through our search engine so that those blog entries have been removed (for now). Once we get those entries into the site, we'll re-index so that they'll turn up in search results again.

Meantime, we have been wondering about the word elbow. Melanie's got an irritated ulnar nerve, making her elbow tender and her hand tingly. The source of el- in ellbow is English ell, which is cognate with Greek ulna, both meaning "arm". The -bow element in elbow means "bend". Just as when you bow, you bend at the waist, and a bow-legged person has slightly bent legs, the ell bow is the "arm bend". An oxbow was originally a bowed piece of wood used to form a collar for draught oxen, and so in America, the oxbow-shaped, cut-off loops of rivers became known as oxbows.

In looking at quotations containing early instances of elbow, we came upon the word handwyrste (from about 1000 AD). Huh? Yes, they did sometimes call the wrist a handwrist, and looking into the etymology of wrist helps explain why the word wrist did not always suffice on its own. Wrist comes ultimately from a Germanic root which means "to writhe". So the handwrist was the "hand writhing" or the thing that allowed the hand as a whole to move and "writhe". Eventually, since no other body parts were called "writhings", the "hand" element was dropped.

For some reason wrist reminded us of the word wick. Not the thing in the center of candles, or related words. No, we mean wick as in "alive". If you are familiar with the musical The Secret Garden, you may remember the song from it that contains the line, "If a thing is wick it will grow." Well, the setting of that musical is Yorkshire, and we find that wick in this sense is indeed a Yorkshire word. Where did it come from? It is a variant of quick! As in the quick of your fingernail, or the quick and the dead, or quicksilver. See our discussion of quick in Issue 47 of TOWFI.

By the way, elbow dates from about 1000 AD in English (in the form elbo#a, where the # represents the old English character yogh, which Blogspot doesn't seem to recognize, but there's a lovely image of it at left. You can also read about Old English characters in Issue 142 of TOWFI. Oxbow dates from 1797 in the U.S. Wrist appears a bit earlier in the written record than elbow, about 940 AD, in the form wriste. And wick in our sense dates only from about 1760 in the form whick.

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