Down the rabbit hole …

I’ve found another rabbit hole: I idly consulted the Online Etymological Dictionary   –  a sure sign that I have time on my hands again.

It started off, as these things usually do, innocently enough with the word feckless. I wondered just what we were accusing that person of, when we put this label on him. Should he be endeavouring to become feckfull? Well, actually, he probably should. Etymonline says:

Feckless

1590s, from feck, “effect, value, vigor” (late 15c.), Scottish shortened form of effect (n.), + -less. Popularized by Carlyle, who left its opposite, feckful, in dialectal obscurity. Related: Fecklessly; fecklessness.”

From feckless to reckless. I had an inkling that this was connected to “reckon” and Gerard Manley Hopkins lovely word “reck” (“Why do men then now not reck his rod?“ in God’s Grandeur ), and I was right. But there’s more to it:

Reckless

Old English receleas “careless, thoughtless, heedless,” earlier reccileas, from *rece, recce “care, heed,” from reccan “to care” (see reck (v.)) + -less. The same affixed form is in German ruchlos, Dutch roekeloos “wicked.” Root verb reck (Old English reccan) is passing into obscurity.

No back-formation to reckful, yet. Maybe our heedless world can’t grasp that concept? But the word wicked caught my eye here: It looks like a past participle, but is it? Is there an old verb to wick with evil connotations? No, but look where this got me:

Wicked
1200, extended form of earlier wick “bad, wicked, false” (12c.), which apparently is an adjectival use of Old English wicca“wizard” (see witch). Formed as if a past participle, but there is no corresponding verb. For evolution, compare wretched from wretch. Slang ironic sense of “wonderful” first attested 1920, in F. Scott Fitzgerald. As an adverb from early 15c. Related: Wickedly.

*weg-  Proto-Indo-European root meaning “to be strong, be lively.” It forms all or part of:
awakebewitchbivouacinvigilatereveillesurveillancevedettevegetablevelocity;
vigilvigilantvigilantevigorwaftwaitwake (v.) “emerge or arise from sleep;” waken;
watchWiccawickedwitch.

It is the hypothetical source of/evidence for its existence is provided by: Sanskrit vajah “force, strength,” vajayati “drives on;” Latin vigil “watchful, awake,” vigere “be lively, thrive,” velox “fast, lively,” vegere “to enliven,” vigor “liveliness, activity;” Old English wacan “to become awake,” German wachen “to be awake,” Gothic wakan “to watch.”

I’ll leave you to look those up yourselves (you should get there by clicking on them), but even if you aren’t a happy camper do check out bivouac:

1702, “encampment of soldiers that stays up on night watch in the open air, dressed and armed,” from French bivouac (17c.), said to be a word from the Thirty Years’ War, ultimately from Swiss/Alsatian biwacht “night guard,” from bei- (from Old High German bi- “by,” here perhaps as an intensive prefix; see by) + wacht “guard” (from Proto-Germanic *wahtwo, from PIE root *weg- “to be strong, be lively”). Sense of “outdoor camp” is from 1853. According to OED not a common word in English before the Napoleonic Wars. Italian bivacco is from French. As a verb, 1809, “to post troops in the night;” meaning “camp out-of-doors without tents” is from 1814.

From one apparent past participle to another: what about naked? Another trouvaille!

Naked

Old English nacod “nude, bare; empty,” also “not fully clothed,” from Proto-Germanic *nakwadaz (source also of Old Frisian nakad, Middle Dutch naket, Dutch naakt, Old High German nackot, German nackt, Old Norse nökkviðr, Old Swedish nakuþer, Gothic naqaþs “naked”), from PIE root *nogw- “naked” (source also of Sanskrit nagna, Hittite nekumant-, Old Persian *nagna-, Greek gymnos, Latin nudus, Lithuanian nuogas, Old Church Slavonic nagu-, Russian nagoi, Old Irish nocht, Welsh noeth “bare, naked”). Related: Nakedlynakedness. Applied to qualities, actions, etc., from late 14c. (first in “The Cloud of Unknowing”); phrase naked truth is from 1585, in Alexander Montgomerie’s “The Cherry and the Slae”:

Which thou must (though it grieve thee) grant
I trumped never a man.
But truely told the naked trueth,
To men that meld with mee,
For neither rigour, nor for rueth,
But onely loath to lie.

[Montgomerie, 1585]

Phrase naked as a jaybird (1943) was earlier naked as a robin (1879, in a Shropshire context); the earliest known comparative based on it was naked as a needle (late 14c.). Naked eye is from 1660s, unnecessary in the world before telescopes and microscopes.

Now – read that little verse again. Especially the second and third lines:

“I trumped never a man
But truly told the naked truth”

I couldn’t resist looking up “trump”:

“”fabricate, devise,” 1690s, from trump “deceive, cheat” (1510s), from Middle English trumpen (late 14c.), from Old French tromper “to deceive,” of uncertain origin. Apparently from se tromper de “to mock,” from Old French tromper “to blow a trumpet.” Brachet explains this as “to play the horn, alluding to quacks and mountebanks, who attracted the public by blowing a horn, and then cheated them into buying ….” The Hindley Old French dictionary has baillier la trompe “blow the trumpet” as “act the fool,” and Donkin connects it rather to trombe “waterspout,” on the notion of turning (someone) around. Connection with triumph also has been proposed. Related: TrumpedtrumpingTrumped up “false, concocted” first recorded 1728.”

Need I say more?

(Don’t worry –  this rabbit hole is endless!)

 

 

 

5 thoughts on “Down the rabbit hole …

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