Salutations to all our loyal followers!
Yesterday here at the HLC we heard a wailing cry of despair swelling from you: “Where is our Fun Etymology??”
We understand your pain, and we’re sorry. The doom-train of deadlines is barrelling out of control towards the railway exchange post of our lives, and in out eagerness to meet it head-on we have neglected our duties.
So, without further ado, here’s our very first (and let’s hope also our last) Belated Etymology!
Yesterday’s word was “acorn”.
Acorns are the seed par excellence, the tiny brown nuts which become the mighty oak. They’re also the squirrel’s favourite food, and we all know the squirrel is one of the Best Animals Ever™.
The word “acorn” is a very ancient one, going all the way back to a Proto-Germanic word that referred to all forest tree fruits. Cognates can be found in most Germanic languages (Old Norse: akarn; German: Ecker; Gothic: akran).
Some even trace the word back all the way to the Proto-Indo-European root *agr-, meaning “open space”, from which we also get the words “acre” and “agriculture”.
From the Old English form “æcern” one would expect a Modern English word spelled “akern”. So why do we get “acorn”?
Well some people in the late Old English period thought the “æc” part of “æcern” to be a variant of the word “āc”, meaning “oak”, and the “cern” part to refer to corn.
Since they come from oaks and they look like corn kernels, they reasoned, it makes sense that they might be called “oak-corn”, from whence we got the spelling “acorn”.
Even the simplest words often have the most convoluted history!