Smoke, scent, perfume — the etymology of the mist of fragrance; examining the legacy of aroma, the waft of fire, in the history of language.
The inspiration of smoke, scent and magic
One might offer that, as a designer, I’ve spent a lot of time examining the context of fragrance. And it’s been asked — “why?”
As a designer, why would a brand strategist explore that environmental presence? The point lies in the heart of how people sense where they are — and how they recall it. Digging into the researches of etymologist Douglas Harper, he’s gathered the root forms of many phrases that link to the context of scent and fragrance, as well as hundreds of other expressions. Any word hound will know that our use of language lies in the heritage of Greek and Latin gatherings of language — but few might push the edge reaching back into the proverbial mists of time. Many words that come into parlance lie in the legacies of thousands of years before, into the nexus of the Proto Indo European seed sounds of speech and writing. The Greeks, then the Romans, used words that they encounter in trade and traveling intercourse amidst centuries of exchange and expedition. Walking back in time, the concept of fire and smoke and the outcome of scent, a gathered exploration lies below. Kindly note the etymological language abbreviation, below the email signature. These will assert the full text of the provenance.
smoke (n.1) burning with smoldering flame
late O.E. smoca, related to smeocan “give off smoke,” from P.Gmc. *smeukanan (cf. M.Du.smooc, Du. smook, M.H.G. smouch, Ger. Schmauch), from PIE base *smeug(h)- “to smoke” (cf. Arm. mux “smoke,” Gk. smykhein “to burn with smoldering flame,” O.Ir. much, Welsh mwg“smoke”). Smokestack is from 1862; smoke-eater “firefighter” is c.1930. Phrase go up in smoke“be destroyed” is from 1933. smoke alarm first attested 1936.
smoke screen deception and concealment
1915, as a form of military camouflage, from smoke (n.1); 1926 in the fig. sense. The association of smoke with “deception, deliberate obscurity” dates back to at least 1565.
smoke (v.) making smoke
O.E. smocian “to produce smoke,” see smoke (n.). Meaning “to drive out or away or into the open by means of smoke” is attested from 1590s. Meaning “to cure (bacon, fish, etc.) by exposure to smoke” is first attested 1599. In connection with tobacco, the verb is first recorded 1604 in James I’s “Counterblast to Tobacco.” Smoking gun in figurative sense of “incontestable evidence” is from 1974.
smoke (n.2) smoking tobacco
“cigarette,” slang, 1882, from smoke (n.1). Also “opium” (1884). Meaning “a spell of smoking tobacco” is recorded from 1835.
funk (2) giving off smoke
“bad smell,” 1620s, from dialectal Fr. funkière “smoke,” from O.Fr. fungier “give off smoke,” from L. fumigare “to smoke.” In reference to a style of music, it is first attested 1959, a back formation from funky.
fume (n.) the fog of spirit
late 14c., from O.Fr. fum “smoke, steam, vapor,” from L. fumus “smoke” (v.), from PIE*dhumo- (cf. Skt. dhumah, O.C.S. dymu, Lith. dumai, O.Prus. dumis “smoke,” M.Ir. dumacha“fog,” Gk. thymos “spirit, mind, soul”). The verb is first recorded c.1400, from O.Fr. fumer, from L. fumare “to smoke, steam;” figurative sense of “show anger” is first recorded 1520s. Related: Fumed; fuming.
reek (n.) the stench steam of burning material
O.E. rec (Anglian), riec (W.Saxon), “smoke from burning material,” probably from O.N. reykr(cf. Reykjavik, lit. “smoky bay”), from P.Gmc. *raukiz (cf. O.Fris. rek, M.Du. rooc, O.H.G. rouh,Ger. Rauch “smoke, steam”), apparently not found outside Gmc. Sense of “stench” is attested 1659, via the notion of “that which rises.” The verb is from O.E. recan (Anglian), reocan(W.Saxon), from P.Gmc. *reukanan (cf. Ger. rauchen “to smoke,” riechen “to smell”). Originally “to emit smoke;” meaning “to emit a bad smell” is recorded from 1710.
fumigation ceremonial scented smoke
late 14c., “make aromatic smoke as part of a ceremony,” from O.Fr. fumigation, from L.fumigationem (nom. fumigatio), from fumigare “to smoke,” from fumus “smoke, fume” + root of agere “to drive” (see act). Sense of “expose (someone or something) to aromatic fumes” is c.1400, originally as a medicinal or therapeutic treatment.
toke (n.) the shave of, the hit
1968, “inhalation of a marijuana cigarette or pipe smoke,” U.S. slang, from earlier verb meaning “to smoke a marijuana cigarette” (1952), perhaps from Sp. tocar in sense of “touch, tap, hit” or “get a shave or part.” In 19c. the same word in British slang meant “small piece of poor-quality bread,” but this probably is not related.
chipotle the dried, chili smoke of the Aztecs
“smoke-dried jalapeño chili,” from Mex.Sp., ultimately a Nahuatl (Aztec) word, said to be a compound of xilli “chili” + poctli “smoke.”
smog fogged smoke
1905, blend of smoke and fog, formed “after Lewis Carrol’s example” [Klein; seeportmanteau]. Reputedly coined in ref. to London, and first attested there in a paper read by Dr. H.A. des Voeux, treasurer of the Coal Smoke Abatement Society, though he seems not to have claimed credit for coining it.
typhus a blinding smoke
acute infectious fever, 1785, from Mod.L. (De Sauvages, 1759), from Gk. typhos “stupor caused by fever,” lit. “smoke,” from typhein “to smoke,” related to typhos “blind,” typhon“whirlwind,” ult. origin unknown. The disease so called from the prostration that it causes.
smother smoking asphyxiation
c.1200, “to suffocate with smoke,” from smorthre (n.) “dense, suffocating smoke” (c.1175), from stem of O.E. smorian “to suffocate, choke,” possibly connected to smolder. Meaning “to kill by suffocation” is from 1548; sense of “to extinguish a fire” is from 1591. Sense of “stifle, repress” is first recorded 1579; meaning “to cover thickly (with some substance)” is from 1598.
camouflage a smoking cover
1917, from Fr. camoufler, Parisian slang, “to disguise,” from It. camuffare “to disguise,” perhaps a contraction of capo muffare “to muffle the head.” Probably altered by Fr. camouflet“puff of smoke,” on the notion of “blow smoke in someone’s face.” The British navy in World War I called it dazzle-painting.
blunt a camouflaged cigar
c.1200, “dull, obtuse,” perhaps from O.N. blundra (see blunder). Meaning “abrupt of speech or manner” is from 1580s. Blunt, street slang for “marijuana and tobacco cigar” (easier to pass around, easier to disguise, and the stimulant in the tobacco enhances the high from the pot) surfaced c.1993, but is said to have originated among Jamaicans in New York City in the early 1980s; from Phillies Blunt brand cigars.
Users say that the Phillies Blunt brand produces less harsh-tasting or sweeter smoke. The leaf wrapper of a Phillies Blunt is strong enough to hold together through the manipulations of making a blunt. Other brands fall apart. [http://nepenthes.lycaeum.org/Drugs/THC/Smoke/blunts.html]
dust (n.) the vapor, the shake of smoke
O.E. dust, from P.Gmc. *dunstaz, from PIE *dheu- with a sense of “smoke, vapor” (cf. Skt. dhu-“shake,” L. fumus “smoke”). The verb means both “to sprinkle with dust” (1590s) and “to rid of dust” (1560s). Sense of “to kill” is U.S. slang first recorded 1938 (cf. bite the dust under bite).
hovel smoke vent
1358, “roofed passage, vent for smoke,” later “shed for animals” (1435), of unknown origin. Meaning “shed for human habitation; rude or miserable cabin” is from 1625. It also sometimes meant “canopied niche for a statue or image” (1463).
violent the powerful effect of smoke
mid-14c.; see violence. In M.E. the word also was applied in reference to heat, sunlight, smoke, etc., with the sense “having some quality so strongly as to produce a powerful effect.” Related: Violently.
hookah the smoking vessel
also hooka, 1763, from Arabic huqqah “small box, vessel” (through which the smoke is drawn), extended in Urdu to the whole apparatus.
flue the smoking channel
“smoke channel in a chimney,” 1582, perhaps related to 15c. word meaning “mouthpiece of a hunting horn,” or perhaps from O.E. flowan “to flow,” and/or O.Fr. fluie “stream.”
nonsmoker no smoke here
also non-smoker, “person who does not smoke,” 1846, in reference to railways. Non-smoking(adj.) is attested from 1891.
vaporize the mist of smoke
yen (2) the craving of smoke
“sharp desire, hunger,” 1906, earlier yin “intense craving for opium” (1876), from Chinese (Cantonese) yan “craving,” or from a Beijing dialect word for “smoke.” Reinforced in Eng. by influence of yearn.
quiff the curl of smoke
“curl or lock of hair over the forehead,” 1890, originally a style among soldiers, of unknown origin. Perhaps connected with quiff “a puff or whiff of tobacco smoke” (1831, originally Southern U.S.), held to be a variant of whiff (q.v.).
poke (n.2) the stain of smoke
1630s, “tobacco plant,” from Narraganset puck “smoke,” shortened from Algonquian uppowoc. Klein gives source as Virginian puccoon, lit. “plant for staining.” The exact plant meant by the Indians is likewise uncertain.
cigar the Mayan smoke
1730, from Sp. cigarro, probably from Maya sicar “to smoke rolled tobacco leaves,” from si’c“tobacco;” or from or influenced by Sp. cigarra “grasshopper” (on resemblance of shape).
fetid the stinking smoke
1590s, from L. fetidus, foetidus “stinking,” from fetere “have a bad smell, stink.” Perhaps connected with fimus “dung,” or with fumus “smoke.”
e.g. misocapnic “hating (tobacco) smoke,”
before vowels, mis-, comb. form of misos “hatred,” misein “to hate.” Forming many compounds in English, most of them obscure or recherche, but some perhaps useful, misocyny “hatred of dogs.”
smolder to burn without smoke
c.1300 (implied in smoldering), “to smother, suffocate,” cognate with M.Du. smolen, Low Ger.smelen, Flem. smoel “hot,” from P.Gmc. *smel-, *smul-. The meaning “burn and smoke without flame” is first recorded 1529, fell from use 17c. (though smoldering persisted in poetry) and was revived 19c.
atrium the opening from which smoke escapes
1570s, from L., “central court or main room of an ancient Roman house,” sometimes said (on authority of Varro, “De Lingua Latina”) to be an Etruscan word, but perhaps from PIE *ater-“fire,” on notion of “place where smoke from the hearth escapes” (through a hole in the roof). Anatomical sense of “either of the upper cavities of the heart” first recorded 1870. Meaning “skylit central court in a public building” first attested 1967. Related: Atrial.
aspire spirit smoke
mid-15c., from O.Fr. aspirer “aspire to, inspire” (12c.), from L. aspirare “to breathe upon, to breathe,” also, in transf. senses, “to be favorable to, assist; to climb up to, to endeavor to obtain, to reach to, to seek to reach; infuse,” from ad- “to” + spirare “to breathe” (see spirit). The notion is of “panting with desire,” or perhaps of rising smoke.
perfume (n.) scent from smoke
1530s, from M.Fr. parfum, from parfumer “to scent,” from Prov. perfumar, from L. per-“through” (see per) + fumare “to smoke” (see fume). Earliest use in English was in reference to fumes from something burning. Meaning “fluid containing agreeable essences of flowers, etc., is attested from 1540s. The verb is first recorded 1530s. Related: Perfumed; perfuming.
plume the stream of smoke
late 14c., “a feather” (especially a large and conspicuous one), from O.Fr. plume, from L. pluma“feather, down,” from PIE base *pleus- “to pluck, a feather, fleece” (cf. O.E. fleos “fleece”). Meaning “a long streamer of smoke, etc.” is first attested 1878. The verb meaning “to dress the feathers” is from 1702. Related: Plumed; plumes.
louver the smoke channel
late 14c., “domed turret-like structure atop a building to disperse smoke and admit light,” from O.Fr. lovier, of uncertain origin. One theory connects it to M.L. *lodarium, which might be from a Germanic source (cf. O.H.G. louba “upper room, roof;” see lobby). Another suggests it is from Fr. l’ouvert, lit. “the open place,” from le, definite article, + pp. of ouvrir “to open.” Meaning “overlapping strips in a window (to let in air but keep out rain)” first recorded 1550s. The form has been influenced by unrelated Fr. Louvre, the name of the palace in Paris, which is said to be so named because its builder, Philip Augustus, intended it as a wolf kennel.
holy sacred smoke
O.E. halig “holy,” from P.Gmc. *khailagas (cf. O.N. heilagr, Ger. heilig, Goth. hailags “holy”), adopted at conversion for L. sanctus. Primary (pre-Christian) meaning is not impossible to determine, but it was probably “that must be preserved whole or intact, that cannot be transgressed or violated,” and connected with O.E. hal (see health) and O.H.G. heil “health, happiness, good luck” (source of the Ger. salutation heil). Holy water was in Old English. Holy has been used as an intensifying word from 1837; used in expletives since 1880s (e.g. Holy smoke, 1889, holy mackerel, 1903, holy moly etc.), all euphemisms for holy Christ or Holy Moses.
blast the blow of smoke
O.E. blæst “blowing, breeze, puff of wind,” from P.Gmc. *bles- (cf. O.N. blastr, O.H.G. blast “a blowing, blast,” Ger. blasen, Goth. blesan “to blow”), from PIE *bhle- “to blow,” probably a variant of base *bhel- (2) “to swell, blow up” (see bole). Meaning “explosion” is from 1630s; that of “noisy party, good time” is from 1953, Amer.Eng. slang. Sense of “strong current of air for iron-smelting” (1690s) led to blast furnace and transferred sense in full blast “the extreme” (1839). Blast was the usual word for “a smoke of tobacco” c.1600. Blast off first recorded 1951.
stew (v.) the smoke of steam
c.1400, “to bathe in a steam bath,” from O.Fr. estuver (Fr. étuver) “bathe, stew,” of uncertain origin. Common Romanic (cf. Sp. estufar, It. stufare), possibly from V.L. *extufare “evaporate,” from ex- “out” + *tufus “vapor, steam,” from Gk. typhos “smoke.” Cf. O.E. stuf-bæþ “hot-air bath;” see stove. Meaning “to boil slowly, to cook meat by simmering it in liquid” is attested from early 15c. The meaning “to be left to the consequences of one’s actions” is from 1650s, from figurative expression to stew in one’s own juices. Slang stewed “drunk” first attested 1737.
carbon blackened from smoke
non-metallic element, 1789, coined 1780s in Fr. by Lavoisier as charbone, from L. carbo (gen.carbonis) “glowing coal, charcoal,” from PIE base *ker- “heat, fire, to burn” (cf. L. cremare “to burn;” Skt. krsna “black, burnt,” kudayati “singes;” Lith. kuriu “to heat,” karštas “hot,” krosnis“oven;” O.C.S. kurjo “to smoke,” krada “fireplace, hearth;” Rus. ceren “brazier;” O.H.G. harsta“roasting;” Goth. hauri “coal;” O.N. hyrr “fire;” O.E. heorð “hearth”). Carbon 14, long-lived radioactive isotope used in dating organic deposits, is from 1936. Carbon dating (using carbon 14) is recorded from 1958. Carbon cycle is attested from 1912. Carbon footprint was in use by 2001. Carbon paper (soon to be obsolete) is from 1895.
typhoon the whirlwind of smoke
the modern word represents a coincidence and convergence of at least two unrelated words of similar sound and sense. Tiphon “violent storm, whirlwind, tornado” is recorded from 1555, from Gk. typhon “whirlwind,” personified as a giant, father of the winds, perhaps from typhein“to smoke.” The meaning “cyclone, violent hurricane of India or the China Seas” (1588) is first recorded in T. Hickock’s translation of an account in Italian of a voyage to the East Indies by Cæsar Frederick, a merchant of Venice, probably borrowed from, or infl. by, Chinese (Cantonese) tai fung “a great wind,” from tu “big” + feng “wind;” name given to violent cyclonic storms in the China seas. A third possibility is tufan, a word in Arabic, Persian and Hindi meaning “big cyclonic storm” (and the source of Port. tufao), which may be from Gk. typhonbut commonly is said to be a noun of action from Arabic tafa “to turn round.”
take (v.) take five, to smoke
late O.E. tacan, from a N.Gmc. source (e.g. O.N. taka “take, grasp, lay hold,” past tense tok, pp.tekinn; Swed. ta, pp. tagit), from P.Gmc. *tækanan (cf. M.L.G. tacken, M.Du. taken, Goth. tekan“to touch”), of uncertain origin, perhaps originally meaning “to touch.” Gradually replaced M.E.nimen as the verb for “to take,” from O.E. niman, from the usual W.Gmc. *nem- root (cf. Ger.nehmen, Du. nemen; see nimble). OED calls it “one of the elemental words of the language;”take up alone has 55 varieties of meaning in that dictionary. Basic sense is “to lay hold of,” which evolved to “accept, receive” (as in take my advice) c.1200; “absorb” (she can take a punch) c.1200; “to choose, select” (take the long way home) late 13c.; “to make, obtain” (take a shower) late 14c.; “to become affected by” (take sick) c.1300. Take five is 1929, from the approximate time it takes to smoke a cigarette. Take it easy first recorded 1880; take the plunge “act decisively” is from 1876; take the rap “accept (undeserved) punishment” is from 1930. Phrase take it or leave it is recorded from 1897.
hag the smoking witch
early 13c., shortening of O.E. hægtesse “witch, fury” (on assumption that -tesse was a suffix), from P.Gmc. *hagatusjon-, of unknown origin. Similar shortening derived Du. heks, Ger. Hexe“witch” from cognate M.Du. haghetisse, O.H.G. hagzusa. First element is probably cognate with O.E. haga “enclosure” (see hedge). O.N. had tunriða and O.H.G. zunritha, both lit. “hedge-rider,” used of witches and ghosts. Or second element may be connected with Norw.tysja “fairy, crippled woman,” Gaul. dusius “demon,” Lith. dvasia “spirit,” from PIE *dhewes-“to fly about, smoke, be scattered, vanish.” One of the magic words for which there is no male form, suggesting its original meaning was close to “diviner, soothsayer,” which were always female in northern European paganism, and hægtesse seem at one time to have meant “woman of prophetic and oracular powers” (Ælfric uses it to render the Gk. “pythoness,” the source of the Delphic oracle), a figure greatly feared and respected. Later, the word was used of village wise women. Haga is also the haw- in hawthorn, which is a central plant in northern European pagan religion. There may be several layers of folk-etymology here. If the hægtesse was once a powerful supernatural woman (in Norse it is an alternative word for Norn, any of the three weird sisters, the equivalent of the Fates), it may have originally carried the hawthorn sense. Later, when the pagan magic was reduced to local scatterings, it might have had the sense of “hedge-rider,” or “she who straddles the hedge,” because the hedge was the boundary between the “civilized” world of the village and the wild world beyond. The hægtesse would have a foot in each reality. Even later, when it meant the local healer and root collector, living in the open and moving from village to village, it may have had the mildly pejorative sense of hedge- in M.E. (hedge-priest, etc.), suggesting an itinerant sleeping under bushes, perhaps. The same word could have contained all three senses before being reduced to its modern one.
As explorer of scent, the power of the space of smoked fragrance leads to the quality of those impressions. The deeper symphony of fragrances, the “notes,” can relate to the experience of the burnt smells of tars and incense — essential oils and pitches — burned and transformed by fire; these lower fragrances, the base notes are the foundation on which scents can be deepened and embodied. A reference examines this sequencing:
• Top notes: The scents that are perceived immediately on application of a perfume. Top notes consist of small, light molecules that evaporate quickly. They form a person’s initial impression of a perfume and thus are very important in the selling of a perfume. Also called the head notes.
• Middle notes: The scent of a perfume that emerges just prior to when the top notes dissipate. The middle note compounds form the “heart” or main body of a perfume and act to mask the often unpleasant initial impression of base notes, which become more pleasant with time. They are also called the heart notes.
• Base notes: The scent of a perfume that appears close to the departure of the middle notes. The base and middle notes together are the main theme of a perfume. Base notes bring depth and solidity to a perfume. Compounds of this class of scents are typically rich and “deep” and are usually not perceived until 30 minutes after application.
The scents in the top and middle notes are influenced by the base notes, as well the scents of the base notes will be altered by the type of fragrance materials used as middle notes. Manufacturers of perfumes usually publish perfume notes and typically they present it as fragrance pyramid, with the components listed in imaginative and abstract terms.
The nature of smoke is one of ghostly translation, from one form of existence to another, it is mysterious and transitory — it is present, then gone — it leaves a scent. The speaks of the spirit world, the crossing ground between what is known, and what is seen, and finally what vanishes — in a puff of smoke.
To the realm of fragrance, transfixed in the vaults of memory, it reaches into the heart of personal experience — and fire, and the scents of smoke — have captivated humankind forever. I look for those stories.
Tim | Decatur Island
GIRVIN notations on scent: https://www.girvin.com/blog/?tag=scent
A B B R E V I A T I O N S
|abl. Ablative, the Latin case of adverbial relation, typically expressing the notion “away from,” or the source or place of an action.
acc. Accusative, typically the case of the direct object, but also sometimes denoting “motion towards.” Nouns and adjectives in French, Spanish, and Italian, languages from which English borrowed heavily, were generally formed from the acc. case of a Latin word.
agent A form expressing the notion “doer of action.” Hunter is an agent noun, and -er is an agentive suffix.
Amer.Eng. American English, the English language as spoken and written in America.
Anglian The Old English dialect of the Angles; the dialect of Old English spoken in the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of East Anglia.
Anglo-Fr. Anglo-French,the French spoken in England from the Norman Conquest (1066) through the Middle Ages; the administrative and legal language of England 12c.-17c.
Anglo-L. Anglo-Latin,the form of Medieval Latin used in England during the Middle English period.
Anglo-Norm. Anglo-Norman, the dialect of Anglo-French spoken by the Norman settlers (French-speaking descendants of Scandinavians who settled in Normandy in the 9c.) in England after the Conquest (1066). Essentially the same as Anglo-French.
aphetic Alteration of a word by loss of a short, unaccented vowel at the beginning (such as squirefrom esquire).
Ar. Arabic, the Semitic language of the Arabs and the language of Islam.
Arm. Armenian, the Indo-European language of Armenia.
Assyr. Assyrian,Akkadian dialect spoken in the empire that flourished on the Tigris River 7c. B.C.E.
asterisk (*) Words beginning with an asterisk are not attested in any written source, but they have been reconstructed by etymological analysis, such as Indo-European*ped-, the root of words for “foot” in most of its daughter tongues.
back-formation The process by which an apparently complex word is erroneously split up and a new, simple form produced from it (burgleis a back-formation ofburglar).
c. Century, when following a number (16c.); circa when preceding one (c.1500).
caus. Causative, a form of a verb expressing the notion “cause X to Y.” The en- in Eng. enrich is a causative prefix.
Caxton William Caxton(d.1491), the first English printer, responsible for a number of spelling changes.
Celt. Celtic, Indo-European language branch that includes Irish, Scottish Gaelic, Welsh, and Breton. Also the language spoken by the ancestral group during the presumed period of unity.
cf. L. confer “compare.” In other words, “see this entry for more information.”
cognate Having the same ancestor.
comb. Combining, the form of a word when it combines with other words.
comp. Comparative, the second degree of comparison of an adjective or adverb.Longer is the comparative of long.
Dan. Danish, North Germanic language spoken in Denmark.
DAS “Dictionary of American Slang,” by Harold Wentworth and Stewart Berg Flexner, published 1960, revised 1967 and 1975, revised and updated by Rober L. Chapman, 1986.
dat. Dative, typically the case of the indirect object, but sometimes also denoting “motion toward.” In old Gmc. languages, the “fourth case,” catch-all for I.E. dative, ablative, locative and other cases.
dim. Diminutive, a form of a word used to express smallness, as ringlet is the dim. of ring.
dissimilation Process by which a word with a repeated sound changes one of the two; Latinperegrinus became Fr.pelerin (“pilgrim”) by dissimilation.
Du. Dutch, West Germanic language spoke in the Netherlands, descended from the Low German dialects of the Franks and Saxons.
echoic A word that sounds like what it means.
E.Fris. East Frisian,variant of Frisian spoke on the islands off the North Sea coast of Germany.
e.g. L. exempli gratia”for the sake of example.”
Egypt. Egyptian,Afroasiatic (Hamitic) language spoken in ancient Egypt.
Eng. English, West Germanic language spoken in England after c.450, heavily influenced by French and somewhat by Scandinavian.
etc. L. et cetera “and the others.”
fem. Feminine, the grammatical gender in highly inflected I.E. languages that denotes females and many other words to which no distinction of sex is apparent.
Fl. Flemish, West Germanic dialect spoken in Flanders, generally regarded as the Belgian variant of Dutch rather than as a separate tongue.
Fr. French, Romance language spoken cheifly in France.
Frank. Frankish, West Germanic language of the Franks, inhabitants of northern Gaul 5c.-6c., their descendants ruled France, Germany, Italy in 9c., and the language had strong influence on French.
freq. Frequentative, case denoting recurring action.
Fris. Frisian, West Germanic language spoken in Friesland, the lowland coast of the North Sea and nearby islands, closely related to Dutch and Old English.
fut. Future, the verb tense indicating time to come. English lacks a pure future tense, but Latin and other languages have it.
Gallo-Romance or Gallo-Roman, the vernacular language of France c. 500-900 C.E.; intermediate between Vulgar Latin and Old French.
Gael. Gaelic, Celtic language of Highland Scotland.
Gaul. Gaulish, Celtic language of ancient Gaul.
gen. Genitive, the case of the complement, typically expressing “possession” or “origin.”
Ger. German, West Germanic language spoken in Germany, Austria, parts of Switzerland, technically “New High German.”
ger. Gerund, a verbal noun, in English usually ending in -ing.
Goth. Gothic, the East Germanic language of the Goths, extinct since 16c., but because of early missionary work among them we have Gothic texts 200 years earlier than those in any other Gmc. language, which are crucial to reconstructing Proto-Germanic.
Gk. Greek, Indo-European language spoken in Greece in the classical period, c. 8c. B.C.E.-4c. C.E. Among its dialects were Ionian-Attic(the language of Homer and the Athenian dramatists), Aeolic (used in Thessaly, Boeotia and Lesbos), and Dorian (the language of Sparta).
Gmc. Germanic, a branch of Indo-European, ancestral language of English, German, Dutch, Frisian, Scandinavian tongues and several extinct languages such as Gothic and Frankish.
Heb. Classical Hebrew,ancient Semitic language of the Israelites.
Hung. Hungarian,Finno-Ugric (non-Indo-European) language spoken in Hungary; Magyar.
I.E. Indo-European,the family of languages that includes most of the languages of modern Europe (English among them) and some current and extinct ones in western and southern Asia. All are presumed to share a common ancestor, PIE.
imper. Imperative, the verbal category expressing commands or orders.
imperfect Tense/aspect category indicating progressive aspect: I was saying is in the “past imperfect” tense.
I-mutation, also known as “i-umlaut.”
inchoative Aspect expressing the notion “entering into an action, beginning.” Latin verbs ending in -sco, -scere.Also sometimesinceptive.
indic. Indicative, the mood expressing assertion.
inf. Infinitive, the form of a verb that expresses existence or action.
instrumental Case encoding the notion “means by which x is done.”
intens. Intensive, giving force or emphasis.
Ir. Irish, the Celtic language spoken in Ireland.
Iran. Iranian, the branch of Indo-European languages spoken on and around the plateau of Iran, including modern Farsi and Kurdish.
It. Italian, the Romance language spoken in Italy, it evolved out of the Tuscan dialect in the Renaissance.
Kentish The dialect of Old English spoken by the Jutes who formed the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Kent.
L. Classical Latin, the Italic language of ancient Rome until about 4c.
Lith. Lithuanian, the Baltic language spoken in Lithuania.
L.L. Late Latin, the literary Latin language as spoken and written c.300-c.700.
Loan-transl. Loan-translation, a literal piece-by piece translation from one language to another. O.E. ymb-sniþan”around-cut” is a loan-translation of Latin circum-cidere.
loc. Locative, the case denoting “location in.”
Low Ger. Low German,”plattdeutsch,” the modern descendant of Old Saxon.
masc. Masculine, the grammatical gender in highly inflected Indo-European languages that denotes males and many other words to which no distinction of sex is apparent.
M.Du. Middle Dutch, the Dutch language as it was spoken and written c.1100-c.1500.
M.E. Middle English,the English language as written and spoken c.1100-c.1500.
Mercian The Anglian dialect of Old English spoken in the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Mercia.
metathesis Inversion of segments within a word; Old English þridda became Modern English third through metathesis of -r- and -i.
M.Fr. Middle French, the French language as written and spoken c. 1400-c.1600.
M.H.G. Middle High German, the High German language as written and spoken c.1100-c.1500.
M.Ir. Middle Irish, Irish as written and spoken in the high Middle Ages.
M.L. Medieval Latin,Latin as written and spoken c.700-c.1500.
M.L.G. Middle Low German, the Low German language as written and spoken c.1100-c.1500.
Mod.Eng. Modern English, language of Britain and British America since mid-16c.
Mod.Gk. Modern Greek,language of Greece since c.1500.
Mod.L. Modern Latin,Latin language in use since c.1500, chiefly scientific.
neut. Neuter, the third grammatical gender in highly inflected Indo-European languages.
N.Gmc. North Germanic, the subgroup of Germanic comprising Norwegian, Danish, Swedish, Icelandic, Old Norse, etc.; also the language spoken by the ancestral group during the presumed period of unity.
nom. Nominative, the case that typically codes the grammatical function of the subject.
Norm. Norman, the French of the Normans.
|North Sea Gmc. the closely related languages of the Germanic tribes along the coastal and lowland regions of the North Sea coast of continental Europe before the period of the Anglo-Saxon migration, comprising Old Low Franconian, Old Saxon, Old Frisian, and Old English.
Northumbrian The Anglian dialect of Old English spoken in the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Northumbria.
N.T. New Testament.
obj. Objective,designating or of the case of the object of a transitive verb or preposition.
obs. Obsolete, a word or form of a word no longer in use.
O.Celt. Old Celtic,ancestral language of modern Irish, Scottish, Welsh and related languages.
O.C.S. Old Church Slavonic, the earliest attested Slavic language, known from 9c. C.E. Used by the Slavs of Macedonia and Bulgaria.
O.Dan. Old Danish, the form of West Norse spoken in Denmark after c.1000 C.E.
O.Du. Old Dutch, also known as Old Low Franconian, the Gmc. speech used on the North Sea coast of continental Europe c.700-c.1000.
O.E. Old English, the English language as written and spoken c.450-c.1100.
OED “Oxford English Dictionary,” the principal source for modern English etymologies, begun in 1879 (as the “New English Dictionary”); a second edition was published in the 1980s and the work is ongoing.
O.Fr. Old French, the French language as written and spoken c. 900-1400. More than 90 percent of it was from Vulgar Latin, with a smattering of Celtic and Germanic, plus some M.L. learned terms.
O.Fris. Old Frisian,language akin to Eng. spoken on the North Sea coast of modern Netherlands and Germany before 1500.
O.H.G. Old High German, the ancestor of the modern literary German language, spoken in the upland regions of Germany; German language as written and spoken from the earliest period to c.1100.
O.Ir. Old Irish, the Irish language as written and spoken from earliest times to 11c.
O.It. Old Italian, the Italian language as written and spoken before 16c.
O.LowG. Old Low German, the Low German language as written and spoken from earliest times to 12c.
O.N. Old Norse, the Norwegian language as written and spoken c.100 to 1500 C.E., the relevant phase of it being “Viking Norse” (700-1100), the language spoken by the invaders and colonizers of northern and eastern England c.875-950. This was before the rapid divergence of West Norse (Norway and the colonies) and East Norse (Denmark and Sweden), so the language of the vikings in England was essentially the same, whether they came from Denmark or from Norway. Only a few of the loan words into English can be distinguished as being from one or the other group.
O.N.Fr. Old North French, the dialect of northern France before the 1500s, especially that of coastal Normandy and Picardy.
O.Pers. Old Persian, the Persian language as written and spoken from 7c. B.C.E. to 4c. B.C.E.
O.Prov. Old Provençal,Romance language of the troubadors, spoken in southern France before c.1500.
O.Prus. Old Prussian, a West Baltic language similar to Lithuanian, extinct since 17c.
optative A mood expressing wishing. The archaic Heaven forfend would be an example of optative, though unlike some I.E. languages English has no specific markers for this case.
O.S. Old Saxon, a West Germanic language, the earliest written form of Low German, spoken c.700-c.1100.
Osc. Oscan, the Italic language of the Samnites in middle and southern Italy in pre-Roman times.
O.Slav. Old Slavic,another name for Old Church Slavonic (q.v.).
O.Sp. Old Spanish, the Spanish language as written and spoken c.1145-16c.
O.Swed. Old Swedish,the Swedish language as written and spoken c.900-c.1500.
O.T. Old Testament.
part. Participle, a verbal form having some functions of both verbs and adjectives (in English, usually ending in -ing.)
pass. Passive, the form of a verb which indicates that the subject is the recipient of the action. “The tree was struck by lightning” is a passive construction.
perf. Perfective, the tense or formation expressing the notion of “completion.” To eat is non-perfective; to eat upis perfective.
Pers. Persian, also known as Farsi, modern Iranian language spoken in Iran and Afghanistan.
pers. Person, the form a verb takes in indicating whether it refers to the person speaking, the person spoken to, or the person or thing spoken about. In Modern English, I is the “first person singular;” you is the “second person singular,”we is the “first person plural,” etc.
P.Gmc. Proto-Germanic,hypothetical prehistoric ancestor of all Germanic languages, including English.
Phoen. Phoenician, the extinct Semitic language of the Phoenicians, closely related to Hebrew.
PIE Proto-Indo-European, the hypothetical reconstructed ancestral language of the Indo-European family. The time scale is much debated, but the most recent date proposed for it is about 5,500 years ago.
pl. Plural, the form of a word that denotes it refers to more than one person or thing. Some languages have a dualnumber (there are relics of it in Old English), and in those the plural refers to more than two people or things.
Pol. Polish, West Slavic language spoken in Poland.
Port. Portuguese,Romance language spoken chiefly in Portugal and Brazil.
poss. Possessive form of a word designating possession or some similar relationship. Usually formed in English with an -s and an apostrophe; John’s is possessive of John.
pp. Past participle, a form of a verb that can be both a verb and an adjective, and which denotes action which has been completed. In Modern English, it commonly ends in -ed or-en. Thus, asked is the past participle of ask.French past participles commonly were adopted as finite verbs in Middle English.
prep. Preposition, a word that connects a noun to another element of a sentence; in Modern English common prepositions include in, by, for, with, to.
pres. Present tense
pres.-pret. Present-preterite, a group of Germanic verbs (mostly auxiliaries such as may, shall, can) whose original pt. forms split off and became separate pres. tense verbs (might, should, could).
pret. Preterite, the simple past tense.
priv. Privative,indicating negation, absence, or loss, such as the prefix un- or the suffix -less.
Prov. Provençal,Romance language of several dialects in southern France.
prp. Present participle, a form of a verb that can be a verb, an adverb, and even a noun (gerund), and which denotes action which is onging. In Modern English, most easily identified by its characteristic ending -ing. Thus, asking is the present participle of ask.
pt. Past tense, indicating an action completed or in progress at a former time.
q.v. L. quo vide “which see.”
redupl. Reduplicated, an inflextional device in which a syllable or part of a syllable is copied. Ancient Greek formed its perfect tenses by reduplication: leipo “I leave,” le-loipa “I have left.” It’s rare in English, but examples would betom-tom and chitchat.
refl. Reflexive, form of a word which indicates the subject and object of a verb in a sentence are the same, so that a transitive verb is directed back on its subject. (“John hurt himself” is a reflexive sentence.)
rhotacism The tendency in spoken language for “r” to take the place of other sounds, especially “s/z.” Latin flos “flower” has genitive floris, an instance of rhotacism.
Russ. Russian, East Slavic language of Russia.
Scand. Scandinavian,also known as North Germanic, sub-group of Germanic spoken in Scandinavia consisting of Norwegian, Swedish, Danish.
Scot. Scottish, the variety of English spoken by the people of Scotland. Not to be confused with Gaelic (q.v.), which is Celtic. A number of French words entered Eng. through Scotland because of the political alliance and connection of Scotland and France 13c.-16c.
S.Cr. Serbo-Croatian, South Slavic language or group of dialects spoken in Serbia, Croatia, Montenegro, Bosnia, and Herzegovina. Official standard language of the former Yugoslavia.
Sem. Semitic, major subgroup of Afroasiatic language family, including Hebrew, Aramaic, Akkadian.
Serb. Serbian, eastern variant of Serbo-Croatian, a Slavic language, generally written in Cyrillic.
sing. Singular, the form of a word that denotes it refers to only one person or thing.
Skt. Sanskrit, the classical Indian literary language from 4c. B.C.E.
Slav. Slavic, a principal branch of the Indo-European language family spoken in Eastern Europe. Includes Russian, Polish, Serbo-Croatian.
Sp. Spanish, also known as Castilian, Romance language spoken in Spain and Spanish America.
subj. Subject, the noun or pronoun about which something is said in the predicate of a sentence.
subjunctive The mood typically denoting notions like unreality, doubt.
superl. superlative, the third degree of comparison of an adjective or adverb. Longest is the superlative of long.
Swed. Swedish, North Germanic language spoken in Sweden.
Turk. Turkish, Turkic (non-Indo-European) language spoken in Turkey.
Urdu Language of the Muslim conquerors of India; Hindi with a large admixture of Arabic and Persian. From zaban-i-urdu “language of the camp.”
U.S. United States
V.L. Vulgar Latin, the everyday speech of the Roman people, as opposed to literary Latin.
voc. Vocative, the case or expression of “direct address.” In English it long ago merged with the nominative.
W.Afr. West African, languages of the Guinea coast and inland regions of Africa, the principal source of slaves for the European colonies in the New World.
W.Fris. West Frisian,dialect variant of Frisian spoken in the Netherlands.
W.Gmc. West Germanic,the subgroup of Germanic comprising English, Dutch, German, Yiddish, Frisian, etc.; also the language spoken by the ancestral group during the presumed period of unity.
Wolof Niger-Congo language of Senegal and Gambia.
W.Saxon West Saxon,the dialect of Old English spoken in the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Wessex.
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