Exploring That Rabbit Hole Again …

Whoo-hoo! Sliding down that rabbit warren again, and picking at etymologies like itchy pimples!

It started with “cousin”. I have hundreds of them, first, second and several times removed. I wanted to know the exact definition, and where the English word came from. Well, I never realized anyone could be so specific in the degrees of consanguinity.  Having studied Latin at school aeons ago, I remembered only pater, mater (mother and father), frater, soror (brother, sister) avus, ava and avunculus (grandfather, grandmother and uncle).

However, the following Roman family round-up made my eyes water! My informative website says of the word Cousin:

early 13c., “a collateral blood relative more remote than a brother or sister” (mid-12c. as a surname), from Old French cosin “nephew; kinsman; cousin” (12c., Modern French cousin), from Latin consobrinus “cousin,” originally “mother’s sister’s son,” from assimilated form of com “with, together” (see com-) + sobrinus (earlier *sosrinos) “cousin on mother’s side,” from soror (genitive sororis) “sister” (see sister).

Specific modern usage, “the son or daughter of an uncle or aunt,” is attested by c. 1300, but throughout Middle English the word also was used of grandchildren, godchildren, etc. Extended sense of “closely related thing” is from late 14c.

Italian cugino, Danish kusine, Polish kuzyn also are from French. German vetter is from Old High German fetiro “uncle,” perhaps on the notion of “child of uncle.” Words for cousin tend to drift to “nephew” on the notion of “father’s nephew.”

Many IE languages (including Irish, Sanskrit, Slavic, and some of the Germanic tongues) have or had separate words for some or all of the eight possible “cousin” relationships, such as Latin, which along with consobrinus had consobrina “mother’s sister’s daughter,” patruelis “father’s brother’s son,” atruelis “mother’s brother’s son,” amitinus “father’s sister’s son,” etc. Old English distinguished fæderan sunu “father’s brother’s son,” modrigan sunu “mother’s sister’s son,” etc.

Used familiarly as a term of address since early 15c., especially in Cornwall. Phrase kissing cousin is a Southern U.S. expression, 1940s, apparently denoting “those close enough to be kissed in salutation;” Kentish cousin (1796) is an old British term for “distant relative.” For cousin german “first cousin” (early 14c.) see german (adj.).

(Do follow those links – it’s fascinating!!)

OK,  so let’s look at some other relatives. The word uncle is clearly straight from avunculus and in English avuncular is still used, but there’s more:

late 13c., from Old French oncle, from Latin avunculus “mother’s brother” (“father’s brother” was patruus), literally “little grandfather,” diminutive of avus “grandfather,” from PIE root *awo-“grandfather, adult male relative other than one’s father” (source also of Armenian hav “grandfather,” Hittite huhhas “grandfather,” Lithuanian avynas “maternal uncle,” Old Church Slavonic uji “uncle,” Welsh ewythr “uncle”). Boutkan, however, says “the root probably denoted members of the family of the mother.” 

Replaced Old English eam (usually maternal; paternal uncle was fædera), which represents the Germanic form of the same root (source also of Dutch oom “uncle, grandfather, brother-in-law,” Old High German oheim “maternal uncle, son of a sister” German Ohm “uncle,” Old Norse afi“grandfather”).

Also from French are German, Danish, Swedish onkel. As a familiar title of address to an old man, attested by 1793; in the U.S. South, especially “a kindly title for a worthy old negro” [Century Dictionary]. First record of Dutch uncle (and his blunt, stern, benevolent advice) is from 1838; Welsh uncle (1747) was the male first cousin of one’s parent. To say uncle as a sign of submission in a fight is North American, attested from 1909, of uncertain signification.

So Uncles appear generally in a positive light. Now what about aunt? She’s a mixed blessing:

1300, from Anglo-French aunte, Old French ante (Modern French tante, from a 13c. variant), from Latin amita “paternal aunt” diminutive of *amma a baby-talk word for “mother” (source also of Greek amma “mother,” Old Norse amma “grandmother,” Middle Irish ammait “old hag,” Hebrew em, Arabic umm “mother”).

Extended senses include “an old woman, a gossip” (1580s); “a procuress” (1670s); and “any benevolent woman,” in American English, where auntie was recorded since c. 1790 as “a term often used in accosting elderly women.” The French word also has become the word for “aunt” in Dutch, German (Tante), and Danish.

Swedish has retained the original Germanic (and Indo-European) custom of distinguishing aunts by separate terms derived from “father’s sister” (faster) and “mother’s sister” (moster). The Old English equivalents were faðu and modrige. In Latin, too, the formal word for “aunt on mother’s side” was matertera. Some languages have a separate term for aunts-in-law as opposed to blood relations.

I heaved a sigh of relief that I didn’t grow up speaking one of those languages, and having to distinguish the bloodlines of all my aunts, uncles and cousins!

From families to orphans. Now that is a strange-looking word, and although I knew that it’s orphelin in French, that didn’t really help. Did you know that etymologically, orphans are linked to robots? (Just click on the word robot in the excerpt below.) Seems they have been exploited forever.

Here we go – and look out for the goblins!

orphan (n.)

1300, from Late Latin orphanus “parentless child” (source of Old French orfeno, Italian orfano), from Greek orphanos “orphaned, without parents, fatherless,” literally “deprived,” from orphos “bereft,” from PIE *orbho- “bereft of father,” also “deprived of free status,” from root *orbh- “to change allegiance, to pass from one status to another” (source also of Hittite harb- “change allegiance,” Latin orbus “bereft,” Sanskrit arbhah “weak, child,” Armenian orb “orphan,” Old Irish orbe “heir,” Old Church Slavonic rabu “slave,” rabota “servitude” (see robot), Gothic arbja, German erbe, Old English ierfa “heir,” Old High German arabeit, German Arbeit “work,” Old Frisian arbed, Old English earfoð “hardship, suffering, trouble”). As an adjective from late 15c.

The Little Orphan Annie U.S. newspaper comic strip created by Harold Gray (1894-1968) debuted in 1924 in the New York “Daily News.” Earlier it was the name (as Little Orphant Annie) of the character in James Whitcomb Riley’s 1885 poem, originally titled “Elf Child”:

LITTLE Orphant Annie’s come to our house to stay,

An’ wash the cups an’ saucers up, an’ brush the crumbs away,

An’ shoo the chickens off the porch, an’ dust the hearth, an’ sweep,

An’ make the fire, an’ bake the bread, an’ earn her board-an’-keep;

An’ all us other childern, when the supper-things is done,

We set around the kitchen fire an’ has the mostest fun

A-list’nin’ to the witch-tales ‘at Annie tells about,

An’ the Gobble-uns ‘at gits you

Ef you

Don’t

Watch

Out!

 

3 thoughts on “Exploring That Rabbit Hole Again …

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