Linguistic Non-Twins.

The always enjoyable website bradshaw of the future specializes in showing how two words you wouldn’t suspect of being related in fact are, but the latest post is the reverse:

sorry and sorrow
are not related! Not etymologically related anyway. They were associated with each other phonologically and semantically in Middle English.

sorry and sore are from PIE *seh₂i- “suffering” (Old English sār “painful” and sārig “distressed, sad” (cognate with West Frisian searich “sore, spotty, scabby”)).

sorrow is from PIE *swergh- “worry, be sick” (Old English sorg “anxiety, sorrow”).

In a similar vein, my wife asked me this morning if the two senses of meal were related, and I explained that they are not: meal ‘ground seeds of a cereal grass or pulse’ is from PIE *mel(ə)- ‘crush, grind’ (and is cognate with German Mehl, Dutch meel, and Old Norse mjǫl and related to Latin molere ‘to grind’), while meal ‘the food served and eaten on a particular occasion’ is from PIE *- ‘measure’ (and is cognate with German Mal ‘time,’ Mahl ‘meal,’ Old Norse māl, and Gothic mēl ‘time, hour’ and more distantly with moon, month, and meter). (The semantic transition is from ‘measure’ to ‘marked out or appointed time’ to ‘time for eating’; there’s an obsolete phrase sorry meal meaning ‘an untoward, terrible, or unhappy occasion or occurrence.’)

Comments

  1. Athel Cornish-Bowden says:

    Even more remarkable for me is an example discussed on the same site recently: apparently “male” and “female”, which look so obviously cognate that one would hardly bother to raise the question, are not.

  2. It’s true! ‘ Male’ is from Mars and ‘female’ is from Venus.

  3. … “male” and “female”, which look so obviously cognate that one would hardly bother to raise the question…

    Especially since that immediately leads to the question of where the “fe” came from.

  4. But “female” is a linguistic chimera! The “fem” is unrelated to anything in “male,” but the original ending was dropping in favor of the ending from “male.”

  5. And yet “females” are not linguistic chimera.

  6. Which, I should add, bradshaw does sort of say, although I think he gives the convergence process too little attention. After all, “femina” did not simply become “femella,” then “female,” on its own; the well-attested form “feminella” presumably lost out because the attractiveness of having the parallel with “male.”

  7. Chimeras ?

  8. marie-lucie says:

    The French word for “female” (animal) is femelle, the counterpart of mâle, both regularly derived from Latin. The vowels in the two French words are quite distinct from each other. The English terms cannot have been borrowed directly from Latin but rather from French, where the melle part was interpreted as male. This must have happened after the Great Vowel Shift had made the vowels of the two words closer to each other.

  9. Busy and business are my favorite such pair.

    Even more surprising than male / female are Hebrew ish “man” / isha “woman”, which (as I learned on a long-ago LH thread) are probably unrelated.

  10. David Eddyshaw says:

    Oddly enough, females *are* in fact, strictly speaking, chimeras in the technical genetic sense.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/X-inactivation

  11. Hey languagehaters, does anyone have a link to a publicly available corpus of poetry?

    I want to scan modern english poems for ‘sorrow NEAR sorry’.

    My hypothesis is a poet could tell you sorrow and sorry are unrelated.

  12. David Eddyshaw says:

    It’s an awful pity that “female” is not really analysable as a prefix fe+ “male.” A prefix fe+ meaning “of the opposite gender” … the possibilities are endless.

  13. I’ve been collecting these guys for a while. I think of them as “false doublets”. I have:
    round / surround (< French < Latin superundare ‘overflow’, cf. unda ‘wave’, cognate with water).
    devil / evil (devil < Greek diabolos ‘accuser’, tr. of Hebrew śāṭān; evil < PGmc. *uƀelaz < *uƀa, cognate with over and up).
    river / rivulet (river < French < Latin rīpa ‘riverbank’ < PIE *h₁reip-h₂- ‘steep slope’; rivulet < Fr. riveret, ultimately < Latin rīvus ‘stream’ < PIE *h₃riH-uo- ‘whirling’.)
    isle / island (isle < Fr. < Latin īnsula, of uncertain etymology; island < OE ǽg + land, with ǽg ‘water, island’, cognate with Latin aqua.)
    brothel / bordello, recently discussed upon these august pages.

  14. Dan Milton says:

    TR: ? My dictionaries (OED and AHD) give “business” as a straightforward derivative of “busy”.

  15. I think “languagehaters” needs a double T. I doubt there’s a single languagehatter who could be said to hate language or languages (well, maybe some languages) in any way.

  16. I want to scan modern english poems for ‘sorrow NEAR sorry’.
    My hypothesis is a poet could tell you sorrow and sorry are unrelated.

    Chadwyck Healey, the biggest corpus, has just 16 hits, and few by anyone very distinguished. Here’s a selection:

    ” Sorry is not sorrow. The many-specied violet blooms. ”
    ” Am sorry for her sorrow, and could weep” (by “Fane Violet”, oddly)
    ” And wert sorry with his sorrow; O mighty heart, farewell! Farewell”
    “…once in this sorry life sorrow was not there. ”
    “…young feeling sorry for our sorrow saying how sad to be…”
    ” I’m sorry that my sorrow leaves with you,”
    ” He was sorry for sorrow; ”
    ” She was sorry, And with the sorrow came Repentance true—”

    Then there’s one each by PB Shelley and AG Swinburne:

    “sorry for man’s days of sorrow; ”
    “Shall these be sorry for thy sorrow? ”
    and two by Swinburne:

  17. Chadwyck Healey, the biggest corpus, has just 16 hits, and few by anyone very distinguished.

    Wonderful, thanks D-AW!

    I would have thought there’d be more. I guess I’ll hafta give a shot, doesn’t look like I could do any worse.

  18. Apparently “icicle” is formed from the word “ice” and a word meaning “icicle”.

  19. My dictionaries (OED and AHD) give “business” as a straightforward derivative of “busy”.

    Hmm. I’m sure I once read in some authoritative-seeming source that business was from French besognes, but I don’t remember where, and I see the OED says this is “unlikely”. Oh well.

  20. > my wife asked me this morning if the two senses of meal were related

    I’m amazed; how did it even occur to her that they might not be? I would never think to ask that.

  21. marie-lucie says:

    TR: business was from French besognes

    This is highly unlikely, if not downright impossible.

    Une besogne means ‘a chore, a type of hard, necessary work’. It is related to un besoin ‘a need, a necessity’. If besogne had been borrowed into English the result would have been something like besoign, with stress on the o as in the French word. A plural form would have just added an s, without adding a full vowel as in the ness of business.

    In short, there is no need to doubt the obvious derivation of business from busy (as in happiness from happy, and many other such pairs).

  22. Athel Cornish-Bowden says:

    “Oddly enough, females *are* in fact, strictly speaking, chimeras in the technical genetic sense.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/X-inactivation

    Yes, once I knew the explanation of the tortoiseshell colouring in cats I thought it was a pity we don’t get tortoiseshell women. OK, not many women would want two-tone skin, but two-tone hair could be attractive.

  23. Rodger C says:

    Not sure it’s safe to mention this these days, but my mind goes back ~40 years to the National Lampoon parody of Our Bodies, Ourselves, viz. Our Bodies and None of Your Business: A Woperson’s Guide to, for, and about Fepeople.

  24. I’m amazed; how did it even occur to her that they might not be? I would never think to ask that.

    Remember, she lives with Languagehat. Such subjects tend to come up more than they probably do in most households.

  25. My favorite is “policy” and “policy”.

  26. J. W. Brewer says:

    Rodger C.: “woperson” is not the final form of that word’s development, as it vulnerable to reanalysis showing that it contains an unpalatably male-specific morpheme. The next step is thus “woperdaughter” (which was in use at least in jokes about feminist-pc-language by the time I was in college 30 years ago).

  27. “woperson” “woperdaughter”

    Municipal employees are reminded to close all personholes with their personhole covers upon concluding work on underground pipes and cables.

  28. Rodger C says:

    I thought it was “woperchild.”

  29. >Marie-lucie
    As you know, Spanish has “ocio” (spare time) and “negocio” (business), both words from Latin “otium” and “negotium” (formed from the negative adverb “nec” and “otium”). The first meaning of “negocio” is work.

  30. marie-lucie says:

    Jesús,
    Yes, it is interesting that work or business is defined as “non-idleness”. Perhaps this type of work was originally non-manual work, since hard physical work was Latin labor. In French there is le négoce ‘commercial business’ but the opposite has not survived in the language.

  31. I would assume that negotium is a calque of Greek ascholia, which similarly means literally “non-leisure-ness” but is used to mean “business, occupation”.

    If besogne had been borrowed into English the result would have been something like besoign, with stress on the o as in the French word. A plural form would have just added an s, without adding a full vowel as in the ness of business.

    Well, the OED does mention “Anglo-Norman bosognes , besognes , busuines , etc. (plural) in the sense ‘affairs, business’”, and that last spelling looks pretty close to business, so it’s not quite that farfetched.

  32. Hah! I never knew about “policy” and the unrelated “policy”.

    By the way, I would be interested in a discussion of what the word “policy” originally meant in “Honesty is the best policy”? For many years I have experienced a faint semantic discomfort about this. (I know it doesn’t mean “insurance policy”, but) is it closer to the modern “policy” as in “What is our policy on that?” or is it more like “Wise course of action”?

  33. marie-lucie says:

    TR: the OED does mention “Anglo-Norman bosognes , besognes , busuines , etc. (plural) in the sense ‘affairs, business’”, and that last spelling looks pretty close to business, so it’s not quite that farfetched.

    It is true that besognes can mean ‘affairs’ (in the sense of ‘occupations, necessary chores’), and busuines might be a possible evolution of a feminine plural form of besoin if it was justified by other examples of oi to ui in the history of Anglo-Norman (something in which I have no expertise). In any case, similar spelling is not always indicative of shared origin. It is perhaps more likely that the odd-looking word busuines could have been influenced by the English word.

  34. marie-lucie says:

    Where is Geraint Jennings when we need him?

  35. empty: I would be interested in a discussion of what the word “policy” originally meant in “Honesty is the best policy”? … is it closer to the modern “policy” as in “What is our policy on that?” or is it more like “Wise course of action”?

    Do you intend the question “What is our policy on that?” to mean “What have we undertaken to do, no matter what the reasons for and consequences of that undertaking might be?” ? That would be a rather unnatural sense of “policy”. In actual practice, I would say, the two senses blend into each other – due to reasons and consequences.

    The first definition of policy in MW is: “1 a : prudence or wisdom in the management of affairs b : management or procedure based primarily on material interest”. When prudence has paid off in individual cases of a given type over a period of time, it is reasonable to espouse prudence in all those cases for times to come, i.e. as a policy.

    If acting honestly is a wise course of action, then it is a wise course of action to adopt a policy of acting honestly.

    By the way, are there good reasons to expect that earlier occurrences of an expression will generally be less ambiguous (= rich in cross-reference) than they are today ?

  36. Rodger C says:

    “Policy” was often used in early modern English to mean “self-interesrted behavior” and contrasted with honest behavior. So the saying embodies a paradox that has gotten obscured.

  37. There are a few words in fem- like fembot and femfan (archaic, from when female science fiction fans were rare); this prefix has evidently been abstracted from female, though one could argue that these words are more like neoclassical//stump compounds than like prefix+stem compounds.

  38. Further to Rodger C’s comment:

    You still hear people say ‘Honesty is the best policy’, meaning no more than what the words will now bear, that fair dealing is the best general plan. No doubt, but perhaps not worth elevating to the status of an aphorism. Few can now be aware that what has become a bland near-platitude was once a disrespectful paradox meaning very nearly that honesty is the best trickery, and certainly that fair dealing will get you further than any clever strategem.

    From Kingsley Amis, The King’s English

    Did he really mean ‘disrespectful’, I wonder? ‘Cynical’ or ‘disreputable’ would be closer to the mark.

    John Cowan: I’ve always thought of ‘fem-’ as deriving from ‘feminine’.

  39. The best false doublet I know is “compound”. Something like “table salt is a compound of sodium and chlorine” comes from componere, to place together, as you might expect. But compound as in “the family lived in a fortified compound on the outskirts of town” doesn’t. It’s not a compound because it’s a lot of buildings close together. It’s from kampung, Malay for an enclosure surrounding a house or houses.

  40. Rodger C “Policy” was often used in early modern English to mean “self-interested behavior” and contrasted with honest behavior.

    Like plain “interested” in 18-19C England ? As in: “On this subject he is interested, so his testimony is not to be relied on” ? I just made that example up, I hope you know what I’m getting at anyway.

    ajay: It’s not a compound because it’s a lot of buildings close together. It’s from kampung, Malay for an enclosure surrounding a house or houses

    Nice !

  41. Breffni: On reflection you are probably right.

  42. And the male counterpart of “fembot” is “manbot.” (Per Futurama: “Have you any idea how it feels to be a fembot living in a manbot’s manputer’s world?”)

  43. Thanks, Rodger and Breffni. That’s what I suspected.

  44. The earliest occurrence of “Honesty is the best policy” that I can find is from 1599, by Edwin Sandys (pronounced /’sændz/ !) in his Europae Speculum (also cited in the OED): “This over-politick … order may reach a note higher than our grosse conceipts, who think honestie the best policie”.

    The expression shows a semantic shift reflecting long-term social changes, in particular the rise of an entrepreneurial middle class and the increasing availability and use of money to negotiate values (Simmel). It shows the transition from a normative, proclamatory morality to a negotiated, auditable one in which individuals are to reflect on their motives, and weigh the consequences of their actions in light of their interests and those of others – a free-market morality, one might say.

    Of course many people noticed at the time that such a self-reflective morality has its own problems, as I mentioned above for the case of “sincerity”. When someone claims to be sincere, the very claim draws attention to the possibility that he might not be sincere, or might be seen (by whom, for what reasons?) not to be sincere – since otherwise why bring the subject up ? So one wonders about his motives.

    These difficulties were never resolved, and an uneasy awareness of them persists. The following appears to be a quote from Archbishop Whately in 1854: “‘Honesty is the best policy’; but he who acts on that principle is not an honest man.” In 2001, from the Washington Times: “It is not a phrase I’m particularly fond of, for it endorses a virtue not for itself but for practical reasons, yet it bears repeating: Honesty is still the best policy”.

    Here’s a neat short exposition at livejournal.com:

    A brief glance at the modern form of the expression seems to make it obvious that the best thing that anyone can do is be honest. However, if we look more closely there are two possible meanings. Firstly, it could mean that honesty is the best policy because it is a good thing. But a second possible meaning is that honesty is politic, in that it is the best course of action to produce results. While the first interpretation obviously gives whoever holds to that policy the moral high ground, it does depend on other people being honest as well. As for the second meaning, that was neatly summed up by Jerome K. Jerome in The Idler: “It is always the best policy to speak the truth — unless, of course, you’re an exceptionally good liar.”

    That’s this Idler, not that Idler.

  45. The internet could not assure me who first said “tell the truth, it’s the easiest thing to remember”.

  46. Damn. For decades I have given out that advice, believing it was my own discovery.

  47. There’s a wider debate here, about whether it’s results or intentions that matter. (Me, I think they both matter.) The first position is sometimes identified with utilitarianism, but there is consequentialist moralism too:

    he Truth is, that Temperance, Justice, Charity, &c. are Virtues, whether practis’d with or against our Inclinations; and the Man who practises them, merits our Love and Esteem: And Self-denial is neither good nor bad, but as ’tis apply’d: He that denies a Vicious Inclination is Virtuous in proportion to his Resolution, but the most perfect Virtue is above all Temptation, such as the Virtue of the Saints in Heaven: And he who does a foolish, indecent or wicked Thing, meerly because ’tis contrary to his Inclination, (like some mad Enthusiasts I have read of, who ran about naked, under the Notion of taking up the Cross) is not practising the reasonable Science of Virtue, but is lunatick.

    —Benjamin Franklin, “Self-Denial Not the Essence of Virtue”

    Note the rhetorical punctuation.

  48. chris y says:

    So when the British national anthem invokes the Almighty’s assistance against the Queen’s enemies: “Confound their politics/Frustrate their knavish tricks”, it’s more repeating itself than praying that their leaders fall out with one another? Or is that (mid-c18) too late?

  49. John: There’s a wider debate here, about whether it’s results or intentions that matter. (Me, I think they both matter.) The first position is sometimes identified with utilitarianism, but there is consequentialist moralism too

    The examples I discussed above could not be widened into such a debate, because intention plays no role in them. They are examples that turn up in another, older squabble over reasons-why. This is about which of two kinds of behavior should be declared to be right: “do this because [some higher principle, or person in power such as God or the Archbishop] declares it to be right”, or else “do this because you declare it to be right [after ripe reflection]“.

    In other words, who or what, if anything, is right to stipulate what is right ? This controversy is only about the general grounds for obedience to principles, whether these borrowed or home-grown. The idea that intentions should be taken into account when judging the rightness or wrongness of actions is a relatively recent development of the late middle ages.

    Christianity held the Chair of Morals for over a thousand years In the West. One of its central doctrines is that it is right to forgive everyone and anyone, whatever he or she has done, and for whatever reasons they did it.

    In the passage you quote, Franklin begins with the bald statement that virtue begins with obedience to virtuous principles: “the Truth is, that Temperance, Justice, Charity, &c. are Virtues, whether practis’d with or against our Inclinations; and the Man who practises them, merits our Love and Esteem”. He then modulates into a kind of consequentialism about the right (!) way to do that.

    Unfortunately, in that brief passage at least, he gives no sign of having noticed certain consequences of a consequentialist position. He ignores “hard cases”, where the consequences of applying each of two or more moral principles are mutually incompatible, so that there is no consequentialist principle for deciding what should be done.

    Should torture be allowed in certain circumstances, in order to extract information that could save the lives of thousands of people ? This is where consequentialists may become indistinguishable from utilitarians, namely if they recommend limiting overall damage.

  50. Trolley problem. Most people will act, or approve of acting, to save five people by causing the death of one, but not by directly killing the one.

  51. Most people will act, or approve of acting, to save five people by causing the death of one, but not by directly killing the one.

    I wonder, now: how many people would act, or approve of acting, to save the published articles of five trolley-problem philosophers by causing the articles of one such philosopher to be burnt, but not by directly burning them ? I would vote to consign those five sets to the flames. With a sigh of resignation, I would accept that one set of conundrumous confections remain to annoy posterity.

  52. As I see it, trolley problems, or rather the way they have been discussed for decades, serve primarily to motivate intelligent folk fond of conundrums to continue discussing them. Only two types of conclusion are drawn: 1) a provisional one, that more dicussion is necessary, or 2) a terminal one, that some complicated philosophical position should be adopted in order to terminate discussion.

    There is another conclusion that can be drawn, however: no amount of discussion, and no philosophical position, can guarantee that you will never regret later having done something on the basis of those discussions and positions. Hopes of finding such a guarantee are what fuel these discussions, in my view. If not, what’s the point ?

  53. Here’s another conundrum: is it right to spend so much time conducting such discussions about what is right, or what a majority of people think is right ?

  54. To address this conundrum, one would not consider trolleys, but rather trains of thought that have run off the rails.

  55. To address this conundrum, one would not consider trolleys, but rather trains of thought that have run off the rails.

    S-Bahn-ish the thought!

  56. Especially when the trains run in circles ! One characteristic of SBahnen, according to the article, is “preferably some kind of central circle line or (depending on the city geographical structure) a central part of a circle line (at seaside cities railway circle lines do not need to go out to the sea or lake)”. Discussions do not need to go out to sea.

  57. Franklin begins with the bald statement that virtue begins with obedience to virtuous principles: “the Truth is, that Temperance, Justice, Charity, &c. are Virtues

    It’s not very clear to me if he does or not. He may be saying that it’s a good thing to adhere to a principle of justice, but he may simply mean that just actions are good, without reference to any reified principle. I myself strive to act justly, but not because I adhere to a principle about it. See Smullyan’s essay “Why Are You Truthful?”, in which a moralist asks a series of truth-tellers that question. For those without access to Google Books, I’ll summarize the answers, but this does no justice to Smullyan’s witty prose style:

    Adrian tells the truth because the Bible tells him to. Bernard, because of the Golden Rule. Carey, because truth-telling is a virtue and he wishes to be virtuous. Daniel, because he is a Kantian and it is obvious that lying cannot be a universal principle. Edward, to benefit society. Frank, because his name is “Frank”. George, because he finds that he suffers when he lies. Harry, because he is happiest when he tells the truth. Irving, because he has a mystical intuition that telling the truth will make him happy despite his rational mind telling him the opposite. Jacob, because he has hitherto had no reasons to lie. Kurt, simply because he feels like it. Larry is truthful without having any reasons for it (most of the essay explores this notion). Simplicus, who not only tells the truth but the whole truth, replies “Me? Truthful? I had no idea that I was.”

  58. “Pencil” is not derived from “pen”.

  59. Good one.

  60. trifle-trivial

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