Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Germanic Genealogy #3: Watch!

Waiting witches keep watch on vigorous vegetables.

Well, ok, maybe they don't, but this sentence is interesting nonetheless: All the adjectives and nouns in the sentence are traceable to a common great, great, very great grandfather. The Proto-Indo-European root weg- led to words in Old English, Old High German, Old French, Middle Dutch, and Latin, and sure enough, modern English has drawn from them all. Among others, it gave us the words:

wait: from Old North French waitier, to watch;

witch: from Old English wicca, sorcerer, wizard (feminine wicce, witch), from Germanic *wikkjaz, necromancer (< “one who wakes the dead”);

watch: from Old English wæccan, to be awake, from Germanic *wakjan;

vigorous: from Old French, from Latin vegēre, to be lively, from suffixed (causative) o-grade form *wog-eyo-;

vegetables: from Latin vegēre, (see 'vigorous')

The common thread is strength/liveliness: To wait meant to watch, which meant to be awake, which meant to be lively. A witch was one who wakened/enlivened the dead. Vigorous still means lively/strong. And vegetables are things that are alive (before the dinner plate stage, obviously). The two main strains come to us through Latin, preserving the meaning of being lively, and through Germanic, with the main idea of being awake.

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