Lodestar.

I saw a reference to Vyacheslav Ivanov‘s first collection of poetry, «Кормчие звезды», which was translated as “Lodestars,” and I had two reactions in quick succession: “Ah yes, кормчий is ‘helmsman’ (Stalin was the Великий кормчий, the Great Helmsman), and a lodestar is what you steer by, that makes sense!” and “Wait a minute, why is a lodestar called that?” So I went to the dictionary and found that (unsurprisingly) lodestar is lode + star, but (surprisingly) lode originally meant ‘way’ (it’s from from Old English lād ‘way’) and is an o-grade nominal form (*loit-ā‑) of the PIE root *leit- ‘to go forth,’ which gives us the verb lead (Old English lǣdan). A load was originally that which leads. Isn’t that neat? How it came to mean ‘a vein of ore’ I don’t know, and the OED doesn’t say.

Comments

  1. You can infer the semantic development from the order of the OED’s senses. It starts, as you say, with ‘way, course’, and thence ‘watercourse’, from which ‘vein of metal’ is a natural development. Etymonline says that load and lode split in the 16C, with lode keeping the older senses and load keeping the newer ones.

  2. Ah, true enough. Thanks!

  3. Jeffry House says:

    And you can also steer by the compass, which utilizes a magnet, or “lodestone”.

  4. In modern Russian usage, “the Great Helmsman” means Mao by default. The standard tropes for Stalin are великий вождь, вождь народов, корифей всех наук, and so on. But it’s true that Stalin was called a great helmsman as early as 1934 on the occasion of the Soviet ice-cutter F. Litke  (previously called Earl Gray, Canada, and The Third International) successfully passing the Northern sea route.

    In the Eastern Orthodox tradition, going back at least to John Chrysostom, the Church is sometimes referred to as a ship and Christ as its helmsman. Curiously, in the same year 1934 (although some sources say 1932) a Sardinian-born Italian intellectual-at-large called Edgardo Sulis published a book titled Imitazione di Mussolini.

  5. In East Anglia ‘lode’ appears often in place names and in the names of watercourses.. In the marshy fens transport was difficult on ‘land’ so the waterways, the lodes, would have been significant routes or ‘ways’. I have just looked up ‘Cambridgeshire Lodes’ on Wikipedia and discover some may be of Roman origin.

  6. ..whereas in the Somerset Levels, they have rhines, (origin uncertain, says OED online).

  7. I supposed that lodestone and lodestar were connected, but I didn’t think to connect them with motherlode or load.

  8. In modern Russian usage, “the Great Helmsman” means Mao by default.

    Huh, I didn’t know that.

  9. “How it came to mean ‘a vein of ore’ I don’t know, and the OED doesn’t say.”

    A lode “leads” through the matrix rock that contains it. The term makes more sense than the one used for the same structure in a coal mine, a “seam”. You may wonder why the same structure has two different names but the answer is simple – metal ores rarely occur where coal dies, so completely separate communities mined them.

  10. “whereas in the Somerset Levels, they have rhines, (origin uncertain, says OED online).”

    Since it’s Somerset, it’s probably the same etymon as “Rhein” and “Rhone”. The OED seems to have a weird jingoistic tropism against acknowledging an Celtic etymology for an English word.

  11. David L says:

    I don’t think “seam” is at all unreasonable for describing how a deposit of coal looks. In an outcropping you will typically see a sharply defined dark layer sandwiched between extended regions of rocks, so it looks like a seam between larger areas of different materials.

    I suppose “lode” came into use because early miners would literally follow an outcropping into the ground. Whereas an exposed coal seam is more extensive and doesn’t in any obvious sense lead anywhere.

  12. ‘A load was originally that which leads. Isn’t that neat?’
    Very. I love stumbling on words’ concrete origins, the more so when those concrete origins derive from actual rock.

  13. David Marjanović says:

    Huh, so leiten and laden are related? What Verner hell is this?

  14. Trond Engen says:

    I think (hope) there are two different loads in English.

    I’ve been thinking that ore originated as the same metaphor. No. åre means either “lode” or “(blood or traffic) artery”. Or “oar”, but that’s a homonym. Or “open fireplace”, but that’s another homonym. But it seems that the “lode” meaning is borrowed from German and yet another homonym — or a folk etymology.

    This reminds me that I noticed a couple of days ago that the form of No. åre compared to Eng. oar suggests that it was borrowed. This must have happened together with båt “boat” some time before the Viking Age. (For the sake of linguistic-archaeological interdisciplinary neatness I’d like them to be Frisian loans rather than English, but I don’t know if that might work phonologically. Or maybe I want Frisians to be back-migrants from England.)

  15. Trond Engen says:

    I forgot to mention No. lei(d), Da./Sw. led “direction, waterway”. In the meaning “direction” it’s slightly old fashhioned and dialectal in Norwegian. In the meaning “(coastal) waterway” it’s the standard word. Langs leia “along the waterway” is a standing expression for the route along the coast, especially in Northern Norway.

  16. I have always (wrongly) associated “lodestar” with “lodestone”.

  17. No, that’s a perfectly valid association; the lodestone showed sailors the way.

  18. David Marjanović says:

    But it seems that the “lode” meaning is borrowed from German

    That would make sense because Ader is both “blood vessel” and “lode”.

    Frisian loans

    The Frisians did participate in the Scandinavian shift of [θ] to /t/ and [ð] to /d/…

  19. George Gibbard says:

    A glance at Frisian wikipedia reveals Frisian de ‘the’ and Dútsk ‘German (language)’, so it does not appear to be true that “The Frisians did participate in the Scandinavian shift of [θ] to /t/”.

  20. George Gibbard says:

    Oops, I just found tonger ‘thunder’, so maybe ‘German’ is a borrowing.

  21. George Gibbard says:

    Der binne trije kategoryen ‘there are three categories’ so Frisian seems to be like (non-southern) Old English: *θ- is voiced in pronouns, but not otherwise.

  22. Trond Engen says:

    George Gibbard: […] Frisian seems to be like (non-southern) Old English: *θ- is voiced in pronouns, but not otherwise.

    Also Scandinavian.

  23. In Modern English historic *θ- is voiced not only in pronouns but in all function words, like though and than. In Shaetlan this becomes /d-/, perhaps under Norn influence.

  24. Trond Engen says:

    David M.: The Frisians did participate in the Scandinavian shift of [θ] to /t/ and [ð] to /d/…

    Or initiate it? When did it happen in Frisian? But what I mainly wonder about is the vowels.

  25. George Gibbard says:

    >Also Scandinavian

    I suppose this means that initial Icelandic þ was formerly sometimes voiced but isn’t anymore, which would be unsurprising given the (unwritten) devoicing of historical voiced stops..

  26. Trond Engen says:

    Sorry, I should have written “Mainland Scandinavian”. I didn’t mean to include Icelandic, since I’m always wrong when I try. The mainland languages, though, voices historical þ- in pronouns and function words. I’m pretty sure that was the case already in Old Norse, but phonological in unstressed syllables, not yet lexical.

    I might add that Mainland Scandinavian also voices word-final as -d. Its occurrence in speech is mostly reinstated from reading, but both the written form and the fact that it’s been silenced or assimilated are evidence of historical pronunciation. This was part of the general loss of final devoicing.

  27. And the mill-lade is the channel that diverts water off the main watercourse to the watermill.

    How do you get from lode = “way” to load = “burden” (and “lighter”, “alight” etc), though? Must be two different roots, surely.

  28. Nope, surprisingly they’re etymologically identical. OED:

    Etymology: Old English lád (feminine), way, course, journey, conveyance, corresponding to Old High German leitâ course, leading, procession (Middle High German, modern German leite), Old Norse leið way, course < Germanic *laiđā (whence *laiđjan to lead v.1), related to *līþan to go (Old English líðan, Old Norse líða). The development of meaning has been influenced by the association of the noun with lade v.; in extreme northern dialects this word is not distinguishable from lade n.1 The words load and lode n. are etymologically identical; the present article includes only those senses in which the modern spelling is load, and obsolete senses akin to these.

    For lade:

    Etymology: Common Germanic strong verb: Old English hladan (hlód, gehladen), corresponding to Old Frisian hlada, Old Saxon hladan (Dutch laden), Old Norse hlaða (Swedish ladda); with consonant-ablaut the word appears in Old High German hladan (German laden), Gothic (af)hlaþan < Old Germanic *hlaþ-, hlað– < pre-Germanic *klat-, parallel with *klad- in Old Church Slavonic klasti to place. The general Germanic senses are those represented by branch I; branch II is peculiar to English, but Old Saxon has the sense ‘to put (liquor) into a vessel’, as a particular application of a sense similar to 2 below. Another derivative of the root is Middle High German luot burden, mass, multitude < Old Germanic *hlôþâ; in the Old English hlóð booty, multitude, Old Low German hlótha booty, this type seems to have coalesced with Old Germanic *hlanþâ.

  29. Trond Engen says:

    the present article includes only those senses in which the modern spelling is load, and obsolete senses akin to these.

    Is there a separate article for the other spelling? If not, this is a strange choice, since it’s lode that is the true etymological descendant of lād, while load may just as well be classified as hladan with irregular lengthening due to folk etymology.

  30. Is there a separate article for the other spelling?

    Oh yes.

  31. I should have mentioned that those articles are from 1903; who knows what they’ll look like when they get around to revising them.

  32. David Marjanović says:

    A glance at Frisian wikipedia reveals Frisian de ‘the’ and Dútsk ‘German (language)’, so it does not appear to be true that “The Frisians did participate in the Scandinavian shift of [θ] to /t/”.

    tinke, tocht “think, thought”.

    Or initiate it? When did it happen in Frisian?

    14th or 15th century, poorly documented; much later than the loss of /θ/ in Dutch and even the Lowest of Germans.

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