Wednesday, October 3, 2007

10-3-07: Etymology

I’ve had a slight fascination with linguistics for a short while. I like learning about the origins of words. It just seems neat to me. I’m from New England, so I’m used to a hodge-podge of town names and locations. If you break down the six New England states, two have American Indian origins (Massachusetts and Connecticut), one is from Greece (Rhode Island), two are French (Vermont and Maine), and one has British origins (New Hampshire). That’s just neat.

The modern English language is a real interesting mix of several languages: French, Old English, German, Spanish, and even American Indian. Most people assume it’s a Romance language, but few realize it’s actually considered West Germanic. That’s interesting. There are plenty of words that people use every day, but have no idea where they came from. I kind of wish I took Latin in high school, but I’d rather just figure stuff out as I go along. It’s more fun that way. Besides, Latin is boring. I’m more fascinated in the etymology (word origin) of place names.

One place name in particular that I’ve always liked boasting to people that I know about is Philadelphia. A lot of people assume it’s an American Indian name. But it’s actually Greek. “Philos” means “love”, and “Delphos” means “brotherly.” Combine the two and you get Philadelphia (“phila-del-phia”), or the “city of brotherly love.” That’s just neat, and it’s original. This sort of hobby often annoys people, but sometimes it catches people off-guard and can make for an interesting conversation starter (or finisher…). Here are a couple other place names you might not have known about:

Pittsburgh has a rare, if not unique, naming scheme, since there is an “h” at the end of “burg,” which is common in German place names. But, this is for good reason. Pittsburgh’s name is of Scottish origin. It is named after William Pitt, a wealthy and powerful British politician, and dedicated as “Pittsbourgh” by General John Forbes in 1758. The name can be broken down into “Pitt” and “borough” to mean “Pitt’s borough,” or “Pitt’s town.” The name has since changed due to a heavy influx of German people to the area, and is now known as Pittsburgh.

Boston was originally known as Shawmut, and was named after the town of Boston in Lincolnshire, England. That town’s name comes from “St. Botolph’s Stone,” which was shortened to Boston over time. St. Botolph was a Saxon monk who settled the town along the River Witham in the year 654 AD. The interesting part of the two towns is that they were both settled along marshy land, both being given the name of “The Fens.” That is to say, there are Fens in Boston, Lincolnshire and in Boston, Massachusetts. This is likely the reason for The Hub’s namesake.

I hope that sparked your interest. Tell your friends.

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