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15 Pairs of Words That Seem Etymologically Related, But Aren’t

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A crayfish is not a fish, an outrage is not a rage, and there’s no bomb in bombast. Words suggest one thing, but their histories tell us another.

1. PEN AND PENCIL

Pencil originally referred to a paintbrush with a fine, tapered end, and can be traced back to the Latin penicillus, for paintbrush. Pen, on the other hand, goes back to Latin penna, for feather, which is what the original pens were.

2. MALE AND FEMALE

Where male goes back to Latin masculus, female comes through French femelle from Latin femella. The eventual overlap in pronunciation was accidental.

3. FISH AND CRAYFISH

In Middle English, crayfish was crevice/-visse, related to French écrevisse, related to the German Krebs, for crab. The visse was close enough in pronunciation to fish that some confusion led to a spelling change.

4. HANG AND HANGNAIL

Though a hangnail seems to be a piece of skin that “hangs” off your nail area, it’s actually an “angry” nail. Ang-, meaning troubling or distressing in Latin, also meant painful in Old English.

5. EAR AND EAR (OF CORN)

Isn’t it odd how an ear of corn looks nothing like an ear? That’s because the root of the corn ear is in Old English éar or eher, which always referred to the spiky, seed bearing part of a grain plant, and not to éare, which always meant the ear.

6. HOUSE AND PENTHOUSE

There is no house in penthouse. It came from Anglo-Norman pentiz, which was an outbuilding, or “appendage” to a main building.

7. STAR AND STARLING

A starling is a bird of the genus Sturnus, which was the Latin name for the bird. It was called stær or stærlinc in Old English, and the pronunciation drifted its way to starling.

8. FACE AND SHAMEFACED

Shamefaced began as shamefast, with the same suffix found in steadfast and holdfast, and it had the sense of being shy or restrained by shame.

9. GINGER AND GINGERLY

The ginger in gingerly is not related to the spice identified by the genus Zingiber but to Old French gensor, which is related to gent, as in “well-born.” It referred to small, elegant steps, like those a gentleman would make.

10. STEP AND STEPMOTHER/FATHER

The step- in words for step family members comes not from the word for taking a step with the foot, nor the related metaphor for being removed by one unit, but to an old root stéop-, related to the concept of bereavement. The earliest use of this prefix was in an Old English word for orphan, stéopcild, or stepchild.

11. SCOTLAND AND SCOT-FREE

Scot-free is an alteration of shot-free, where shot was a charge or share of a payment. It was a lucky thing to get out of a meal or a night at the tavern shot-free. It later came to mean escaping without injury, and came to be pronounced as scot instead of shot.

12. LOCK AND WEDLOCK

Wedlock comes from Old English wedlác, where lác was a suffix that formed an action noun out of another noun. Other suffixed words were brýdlác (nuptials), réaflác (robbery), and feohtlác (warfare). Wedlock is the only one we still use today.

13. BOMB AND BOMBAST

Bombastic talk can be explosive and in-your-face, but the word traces back to the soft, downy, French bombace, the name for raw cotton. It was used as stuffing or padding in clothing and in that way took on the meaning of talk that enlarges, pads out, or inflates.

14. RAGE AND OUTRAGE

Etymologically speaking, outrage is not a type of rage. While rage traces back to the Latin for rabies, outrage comes from Old French ultrage, where the ult- is that of ultra, meaning beyond and the -age is the suffix found in plumage, steerage, usage, etc. Outrage is “ultra-age” or beyond-ness. It originally referred to a serious transgression or insult.

15. MAN AND HUMAN

Man comes from a Germanic root, and in all the Germanic languages has had both senses of “person” and “adult male person.” Human comes from a Latin root, humanus, meaning that having to do with people (rather than animals or gods).

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Here's the Right Way to Pronounce Kitchenware Brand Le Creuset

If you were never quite sure how to pronounce the name of beloved French kitchenware brand Le Creuset, don't fret: For the longest time, southern chef, author, and PBS personality Vivian Howard wasn't sure either.

In this video from Le Creuset, shared by Food & Wine, Howard prepares to sear some meat in her bright orange Le Creuset pot and explains, "For the longest time I had such a crush on them but I could never verbalize it because I didn’t know how to say it and I was so afraid of sounding like a big old redneck." Listen closely as she demonstrates the official, Le Creuset-endorsed pronunciation at 0:51.

Le Creuset is known for its colorful, cast-iron cookware, which is revered by pro chefs and home cooks everywhere. The company first introduced their durable pots to the world in 1925. Especially popular are their Dutch ovens, which are thick cast-iron pots that have been around since the 18th century and are used for slow-cooking dishes like roasts, stews, and casseroles.

[h/t Food & Wine]

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The Early 20th Century Society That Tried to Make English Spelling More Intuitive
George Bernard Shaw, a member of the Simplified Spelling Soesiety
George Bernard Shaw, a member of the Simplified Spelling Soesiety
Fox Photos/Getty Images

The English language is notorious for complex spelling rules—and the many words that break them. We all know i comes before e, except, of course, in certain weird words like, well, weird. We pronounce the letter i like eye if the word ends in an e—except in words like give. Unsurprisingly, even native English speakers get fed up with the inanity of the language’s complicated spelling conventions, and there have been several pushes to replace them with something a little more intuitive over the centuries, as The Public Domain Review highlights.

At the beginning of the 20th century, the London-based Simplified Speling Soesiety was one of the groups pushing for a more logical system of English spelling. Its journal, first published in 1912, refers to standard English spelling as "in sum waiz unreezonabl and retrograid.” So the group went about coming up with new ways to spell common words itself, hoping its alternate approach would catch on.

The Pioneer ov Simplified Speling contained a pronunciation guide, but many of its alternative spellings can be deciphered fairly easily. As long as you peruse carefully, that is. Reading through the publication feels like stumbling through an archaic text from hundreds of years ago, rather than something written during the 20th century.

A pronunciation guide from the 'Pioneer of Simplified Speling'
The Pioneer of Simplified Speling

Go ahead and wade into how the group, founded in 1908, explained its mission in the first edition of The Pioneer:

The aim ov the Soesiety nou iz tu plais befor the public cleer staitments ov the cais against the curent speling, tu sho hou seerius ar the consecwensez ov yuezing it, and hou much wood be gaind, if sum such sceem az that ov the Soesiety wer adopted.

Did you get all that?

The debut edition of the quirky journal, which you can read on the Internet Archive, includes not just the group’s mission statement and goals, but birthday congratulations to the Society’s founding president, aggregated updates about spelling in the news (like that in an interview, British chemist Sir William Ramsay mentioned a German child never making a spelling mistake), the announcement of the group’s annual meeting (at which members would submit new simplified spellings for discussion), and other minor spelling-related notes.

The whole thing is truly a treasure.

Fed-up readers and writers have been trying to wrangle English spelling conventions into something more manageable for essentially as long as there have been standardized spellings. Benjamin Franklin was a spelling reformer during his lifetime, as was Theodore Roosevelt. Soesiety member George Bernard Shaw went so far as to leave his estate in a trust dedicated to reforming the English alphabet when he died.

Though the spelling reformers of yore didn't find much mainstream acceptance for their ideas, there are still modern orthography obsessives who want to revamp the English spelling system to make it easier to learn. And they have a point: For English-speaking children, learning to read and write takes years longer than it does for kids learning to read in languages with easier spelling rules, like Finnish. Considering that one study of 7000 different English words found that 60 percent of them had irregularly used letters, it’s a wonder any of us English speakers have learned to read at all. If only the Simplified Speling Soesiety had gotten its way back in the early 1900s, maybe we would have an easier time of it.

[h/t The Public Domain Review]

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