Fun Etymology Tuesday – Hazard

Another Tuesday comes our way – and with it comes another FunEty!

But first: We here at the HLC are thrilled to say that our readership is steadily growing – and we recently passed 200 likes here on FB! So, to all our followers, old and new, thank you for joining us on this trip, we hope that you’re enjoying it as much as we are! And – as per usual – if there’s anything you want to read about that we haven’t talked about yet, let us know!

But enough of that, you came here for FunEty! Today’s word is “hazard”.

It’s quite clear that this word was borrowed into English from Anglo-Norman “asard”, Middle French “hasard” or “hasart”, but before that, the etymology is a bit unclear.

It is possible that it was borrowed from the Spanish word “azar”, meaning an unfortunate card or throw at dice, which in turn is said to be from Arabic “as-zahr”, from “al-zahr”, meaning the (al-) die (-zahr). The problem with that, though, is that (1) our first attestations of Spanish “azar” is actually later than the first attestations of the French word and (2) the word is not attested in Classical Arabic, from which it was supposedly borrowed.

That’s tricky. Regarding the second issue, some scholars (Klein for example) have suggested the Arabic word “yasara”, meaning “he played at dice”, as the origin of Spanish “azar”, arguing that Arabic -s- regularly becomes Spanish -z-. The -d was, it is also argued, added when the word had been borrowed by French, through confusion with the native French suffix -ard. The first may perhaps be explained by loss of historical material (though, really, we don’t know).

The sense of the word also evolved in French, coming to mean “chances in gambling”, and then later “chances in life”. The sense of chance of loss or harm, or a risk of some kind, is first recorded in English during the 1540s.

A bit earlier than that, around 1500, we also see the emergence of this noun as a transitive verb (that is, a verb that takes an object).

So there you have it: an ultimately fairly unclear etymology, I’m afraid, but that’s the way of historical linguistics!

Join us again next week, friends!

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