Fun Etymology Tuesday – Evening

Ladies and gents! We did promise to keep it up and up we shall keep it!

Today is Tuesday and it’s time for another Fun Etymology! Today’s word is “evening”!

From Old English æfnung, meaning “the coming of evening, sunset, time around sunset” from æfnian “become evening, grow toward evening” from æfen “evening”. Originally, evening was a synonym of the noun “even”, also from æfen, which had lost its final -n somewhere around the 13th century and show up around the year 1200 as, you guessed it, “eve”! Now, “eve” referred specifically the time between sunset and darkness but has, of course, become superseded by evening nowadays while “Eve” has undergone a semantic narrowing, meaning that it now refers only to very specific evenings (Christmas Eve, New Year’s Eve, etc.).

You might notice something lacking in our etymology! If you did, we’re sorry! We would love to go further back than Old English but, as a matter of fact, we can’t! We know that this word comes from a Common Germanic base as we find cognates in most Germanic languages (Swedish “afton”, German “Abend”, Dutch “avond”, etc.) but the Proto-Germanic word itself remains elusive (though several hypothesis have been studied throughout the years).

As you know by now, that sometimes happens in historical research: things become lost to us. So, the next time you consider throwing out that book on current language use in your native language (or even just a really bad fictional tale – hey, we’ll take what we can get!), just think of the poor linguist 500 years or more from now, pulling their hair while trying to figure out that little odd thing that the English/German/Faroese/Indian/etc. language did in the 21st century and maybe think again. (Though, of course, this might never be a problem simply because languages are significantly more documented nowadays). But still!

Welcome back next week when we take a look at the darkest of times…… We’re referring to the word “night” of course! See you then!

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