As a side note, for fifteen hundred years the word was messias in Greek, Latin, and English — an English Bible translation of 1560 created “messiah” to look more like the original Hebrew. That same translation re-created seraphim and cherubim, replacing seraphin and cherubin. Cf. Ashkenazim and Sephardim as Hebraic-style plurals designating the major divisions of European Jewry — northern or central European and Spanish/Portuguese, respectively. Sanhedrim was formerly common in England for the Jewish council mentioned in the New Testament, but that’s a mistake — the proper Sanhedrin is a Greek word, not Hebrew, and is a member of the “sit” family as mentioned below. On the other hand, the festival of Purim (lots) is a plural, as is Elohim, gods. Taliban is also a plural; one member of the movement is technically a talib, borrowed into Pashto from the Arabic word for “theological student”. The Semitic TLB root means to seek out. Cf. assassin (from hashish), Bedouin (from badw, desert), and Sudan (from suda, black), all Arabic plurals now treated as singular in English.
Here are several very unlikely relatives of Peter and petroleum. First on the list is parsley; it is what the French did to Greek petroselinon, rock celery. In Old English, the name of the plant was petersilie, which shows the ancestry somewhat better. Three cousins of Peter are birds. The most obvious is the petrel. This is literally “little Peter”; the bird flies so close to the water that its feet often touch, and the name seems to be an allusion to the biblical story of St. Peter walking on water. Not quite as obvious are the parrot and parakeet. Thus, the birds are (etymologically at least) related to the limpet and the lamprey, both from Latin lampetra. For 1,500 years this has been explained as lambere, to lick, plus petra, stone, because both animals adhere themselves to a rock and hold on for dear life. It is possible, of course, that this is folk etymology by the Romans, modifying some unknown word.
Before leaving Greek derivatives of “rock”, we have to mention the city of Petra, Jordan, which is on just about everyone’s list of “things to see before you die”. ”The rose-red city half as old as time“ is world-famous for its more than 2000-year-old buildings carved out of the red sandstone cliffs of the Jordanian desert.
By the way, Jesus and his disciples not only spoke Aramaic and not Hebrew, the evidence indicates they didn’t even speak very good Aramaic. 12Aug17 They were from Galilee, the northernmost province of Israel, and Galileans were notorious for their thick rural accent and vocabulary compared to the big-city types in Jerusalem who spoke “standard” Aramaic — sort of like a West Virginia accent at Harvard or a London East-Ender trying to make himself understood while making a speech in Parliament. In a crucial biblical incident (Peter’s denial that he was a follower of Jesus), he was given away by his strong Galilean accent, according to Matthew’s account.
12Aug17 As mentioned elsewhere, the Latin name of the giraffe was the camelopardis, the camel-leopard, from the fact that it looks sort of like a weirdly stretched camel but has the spotted hide of a leopard. In reality, the only close relative of the giraffe is the Okapi.
Chain, by the way, is the French version of Latin catena, with the same meaning. The only other relatives in English are catenary, the curve formed by a hanging cable, as in a suspension bridge, and concatenation, linking several items together.
22Nov16 By the way, the correct pronunciation of the apostrophe punctuation mark is ap-os-TROFF, borrowed from French. It is a different word than the four-syllable Greek apostrophe (a-POS-tro-fee) which is a rhetorical device when a speaker or writer suddenly “turns away” and pointedly addresses some person or thing. Unfortunately, this distinction is limited to the small minority who (a) know French and Greek and English, and (b) give a damn, so the three-syllable pronunciation is seldom heard. (Examples of rhetorical apostrophe include asides like St. Paul’s “O Death, where is thy sting?” and Byron’s “Roll on, thou dark and deep blue Ocean -- roll!”. Another use is the theatrical device of having an actor “break the fourth wall” and directly address the audience.)
A famous hero in early English history was Hereward the Wake (the Wary or the Watchful), an Anglo-Saxon (or more likely Anglo-Danish) leader who led several years of cat-and-mouse warfare in the fen country against the invading William the Conqueror and his Normans. (Cf. Francis Marion, the Swamp Fox, in the American Revolutionary War.) A couple of centuries after Hereward, some of his legendary exploits were applied to Robin Hood instead. (He had a nicely appropriate name for a military leader — “Here-ward” is Old English for “Army Guardian”. The first syllable is also in Walter, Harold, Herman, Herbert, Oliver, etc.) In later times, the prominent and wealthy Wake family was happy to somewhat dubiously claim Hereward as an ancestor, in which case he would be distantly associated with Wake Forest University! (Wake County, North Carolina was named for Margaret Wake Tryon, the wife of the colonial governor. Her husband was later governor of New York under the British, giving his name to Fort Tryon park in New York City.)
Hereward’s alleged mother is still well-remembered, too. Some sources say he was the son of the famous Lady Godiva, Countess of Mercia, although the obscurity of his origins argue against him being a member of that prominent family. (PS — As mentioned elsewhere, Godiva is Old English Godgyfu, “God’s Gift“, so her name in Greek was Dorothy.)
Meanwhile, other members of the “watch” family include the French surveillance (over-watching), reveille, and bivouac, borrowed from German “by-watch”. Surprisingly, velocity is another relative; the original definition was “liveliness”.
Another contemporary name from popular literature of the time is Kim. As a stand-alone boy’s name it is from Kipling’s 1901 novel of that name, whose hero was named Kimball O’Hara. Feminine Kim is clipped down from Kimberley — Kimberley is “royal meadow” and Kimball is “royally bold” in Irish. On the other hand, the very common Vietnamese and Korean name Kim means “golden” — twenty per cent of the Korean population is surnamed Kim — and it’s the first syllable of kumquat — “golden orange” in Cantonese. I’ve been told there are also Kims floating around Germany, where it is short for Joachim.
Vanessa is another invented name from English literature. Jonathan Swift created it as a pet name for a girl he was courting, Hester Vanhomrigh, in about 1710. He wrote the poem Cadenus and Vanessa about her. Yet another such name is Olivia, which was first used in that spelling in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. Until then, it was Oliva. Cf. Portia for another Shakespearean respelling. Although Olivia is from “olive“, masculine Oliver is not — it’s the English version of Scandinavian Olaf.
12Aug17 Yet another example of a name from fiction is Shirley as a woman’s name. It was purely a man’s name until Charlotte Brontë used for the eponymous heroine of her second novel in 1849. (It was more common as a family name; the most famous fictional character with that surname is undoubtedly Anne Shirley, aka Anne of Green Gables. C.f. Courtney, Lindsey, Shelley, etc. which also started out as family names and then masculine personal names before migrating to females.
Korea, Sweden, and a few other countries suffer from phonebookitis, the problem of having too few family names. Think of the Seoul phone book — the city has almost two million people named Kim. 12Aug17 At one time the Swedish government published a list of “Swedish-sounding” names which were not in actual use, trying to convince citizens to pick one so they could be unique. Iceland has the opposite problem, because they still commonly use patronymic names that change every generation — Peter Olafsson might have children named Ragnar Petersson and Inger Petersdottir, a grandson named Sven Ragnarsson, etc. Somewhere I read the Reykjavik phone book is unique because it’s alphabetized by first name. 12Aug17 The Beijing Olympics popularized the fact that the Chinese “alphabetize” by the number of strokes in a written character, although I understand that using Pinyin for ordering words is becoming popular.
All the meanings of type are from the same figure of speech. Greek typos meant a mark or emblem, from an Indo-European teu- or steu-root that meant to push, stick, or strike. Therefore we have the literal printing type and typewriter, and also the sense of a general characteristic, as in typical. The same “strike” root produced tympanum, which meant both drum and panel of a door in Greek. The singular now means eardrum, while the plural tympani means a set of kettledrums. The original meaning of timbre was the sound of a bell or gong, toil came from a Latin word for a hammer, and a contusion is the result of a beating. Latin tussis meant a cough, and pertussis (strong cough) is the medical term for Whooping Cough. It is the /P/ in the standard DPT immunization shots given to infants. (The other two initials are for Diphtheria (q.v.) and Tetanus, a member of the tenacious tenor family.) Stupid means “stunned” by a blow to the head — “The boxer lay stupid on the canvas after being counted out by the referee.” Cf. stupor. (For stupendous, cf. shocked, amazed, astonished, and other similar metaphors for “speechless”, all of which literally mean “knocked insensible”.)
French has totally disguised pierce, which began life as Latin pertusiare, to “push through” — cf. the Nez Percé (pierced nose) Indian tribe. Study and studio are from using “push ahead” to mean “diligent”. A French ratatouille is a vegetable stew, where the second element is touiller, to stir up. The Greek Styx is probably also a family member — it literally means “hatred”. In Germanic the word got weakened to “poke” or “project”, leading to stoke, stub, stump, steep, and steeple. Last but not least, the step- in stepmother, stepsister, etc. means “pushed out” [of the family]. Stubble looks like it should be a “little stub”, but it is unrelated, being instead a descendant of Latin stipula, stem. The original meaning of “stub” was a stump, and so everyone has always assumed that stubborn meant “as unmovable and obstructive as a stump,” but nobody has been able to account for the form. To “stub your toe” is an Americanism from about 1850.
An extreme but well-attested change takes “character” to gash! Old French adapted the original Greek into garser, to cut. This became garse and then garsh in English, with the same meaning. Since the British don’t pronounce an /R/ before a consonant, this latter was pronounced “gash”. The re-spelling was probably helped along by poets conveniently rhyming “garsh” with slash. Nothing to it when you know the secret! (The spelling had already been changed before bash, crash, clash, smash, dash, mash, hash, harsh, lash, splash, thrash, trash, quash, squash, and gnash came along. Obviously English thinks the -ash ending is appropriate for violence.)
By the way, the original Indo-European root gher- seems to have meant both “scratch” and “grind”, so there are several more relatives from the latter sense. grind itself, plus grit, groat, grout, grist, and gravel, among others. Through Greek, a related “scratch” root also led to the whole graph family — autograph, diagram, grammar, carve and about a hundred more ranging from graphite (used for writing) to pornography. (The first use of “pornography” in English was with the etymological definition — description of prostitution — in a 19th-century medical report on the plight of London streetwalkers.) Stenography goes clear back to 1602 in English. It’s Greek for “narrow writing”; cf. the medical stenosis, which is a pathological narrowing, particularly of the spine. (The surgical stent looks like it should be related, since it is applied to narrowed arteries, but not so. It is actually named for Charles Stent, a 19th-century British dentist.)
Speaking of dentists and other “tooth” words, a dent in your fender is not related. That was originally dint, a blow, transferred to the effect thereof. Its current sense, as in “by dint of arms” is from an extension to “effort”. Dimple sort of looks like it should be related to dent, but it is not —it is instead a relative of dip and deep, so it is a “small hole”.
Grit, finely crushed hard material like sand, is only a cousin of the same word seen in hominy grits. The food is a variant of “groat”, and it was applied to coarsely ground oats hundreds of years before Americans started using it for ground corn in the late 19th century.
The first meaning of program was a public notice; literally “words put in front” of the public. The term came to be used for a prospectus (“see in front”) or syllabus, as in “the government’s program for housing”. From there, it progressed to “public list” of any kind (a television program was what we would now call a station’s listing), and on to a list of any kind. Cf. the theatrical or sports sense of a list of performers, acts, etc. (“The bassoon quartet was the third item on the program,” or “Kobe Bryant is number 24 in your program.”) A computer program goes back to the “prospectus” sense — a list of items to be accomplished in order to complete a task.
Getting back to excavations, Germanic produced groove, grub (to dig), and grave, while geologists use the German graben to refer to a block of crust that has sunk below its surroundings because the crust has pulled apart. The African Rift Valley is a really big graben, while Death Valley and the Rio Grande valley in Albuquerque are smaller ones. In Dutch, a gracht is a city canal, familiar from Amsterdam street (or canal) addresses like the prestigious Heerengracht — the Gentlemen’s Canal. Anne Frank lived on Prinsengracht. It is a good reflection of Dutch society that heeren were ranked above prinsen.
The first meaning of “groove” in English was a mine shaft, by the way, and miners were called groovers — someone named Grover presumably has an ancestor who was a miner, not someone who worked with trees. (Cf. Barber, Baxter, Butler [bottler], Carter, Cartwright, Chandler, Collier, Cooper, Currier, Faulkner [Falconer], Fletcher, Forester, Fowler, Fuller, Gardner, Glover, Harper, Hunter, Mercer, Palmer, Parker, Porter, Sawyer, Skinner, Slater, Tanner, Taylor, Teller, Thatcher, Tyler, Walker and many other surnames from old and/or obsolete professions. Saylor means “dancer”, not “boatman”. See exult for lots more relatives.)
A pervert was once a religious apostate, a convert as seen from the rear. Politicians who change parties to facilitate re-election are perverts. (The current sexual meaning is first recorded in 1892.) The adjective perverse has kept the original meaning of “contrary”, — a perverse opinion is not a perverted opinion. Perversion maintains a sort of middle ground; “This is a perversion of Einstein’s theory” does not imply a moral failing, but it does imply someone trying to stir up trouble, a “devil’s advocate” who knows they are wrong. (Note that “wrong” itself means “turned”. It’s yet another vers- word as described below.)
A poetic verse is literally a “turning”, and the original definition of versatile was variable or easily changed. The eyeball was once described as a versatile organ, meaning it could pivot in any direction. To reverberate is to twist back and forth like a whip. For three hundred years, the only meaning of version was a translation of a text, “turning” it (i.e., a conversion) into another language. The current usage is from phrases like “The English version of the Bible”. The Latin phrase vice versa means “turned in place”, i.e., reversed. (The vice- prefix attached to another noun means “in place of” — vice-president, viceroy, viscount, vicar, vicarious, etc.) Numismatists call recto (q.v.) or verso when flipping a coin.
Sticking to Latin, the joints of your spine are called vertebrae even though most of them can’t twist and turn that much. The term was especially used for the ball and socket “first vertebra” connecting the skull to the neck, and other ball and socket joints like the hip and shoulder were once also called vertebrae.
That head-neck connection isn’t actually a ball and socket joint like the hip, but is instead two separate joints that together give the observed free rotation of the skull:
Incidentally, the shoulder isn’t a true ball and socket joint either, because it doesn’t have a bony socket. The ball at the top end of the upper arm bone (the humerus) rests on a shallow indentation that is part of the shoulder blade — the joint has been compared to a golf ball sitting on a tee. The arm is held in place by a collection of ligaments and tendons that force the two bones together, particularly the biceps tendon and the rotator cuff tendons. This inherent weakness of the shoulder joint is well-known to all baseball pitchers. Here’s an animation of the shoulder joint, showing how far it is from a true ball and socket.
Getting back to wer- again, rhapsody is from Greek rhaptein, to sew. Other Germanic relatives are writhe, wreath, wrath, worry, wring, wry, wriggle, wrest, wrestle, wrinkle, warp, wrap, and wrong (originally, crooked in the geometrical sense). Wrangle is to “wring” as “wrestle” is to “wrest”. The original meaning of warble was to oscillate back and forth before it modulated to “quaver” instead. (As one might expect by this point, whirl is another Germanic descendant of wer-, and swirl is almost certainly related. Swerve looks like it should be a connection, but the experts are undecided.)
And finally, the last word(s)…. Another interesting set starts with vertex, which in Latin meant a (rapidly turning) whirlpool. From that, it came to be applied to the crown of the head, from the swirling pattern (whorl) of hair at that spot, and eventually vertex came to mean “that which is overhead, the highest point” in general. In particular, astronomers used the word for the heavenly point directly overhead, in the vertical direction. Note that vortex still retains the original meaning of a whirlpool.