Fun Etymology Tuesday – Iron

Hello, followers! It’s Tuesday, and that means a shining new Fun Etymology is here for you!

Today’s word is “iron”.

It can be safely said that history changed forever when humanity discovered a way to smelt iron, an achievement comparable to the rise of agriculture or the industrial revolution. But iron was much more than that: for the peoples of Northern Europe, this metal possessed sacred and magical powers. It was thought to be able to chase away or even kill spirits and to be able to store spells.

This belief can be seen in the etymology of the word: the word “iron” comes from Old English “isern”, through a process called ‘rhotacism’ in which an ‘s’ sound becomes an ‘r’ sound between vowels. This word comes from Proto-Germanic “isarnan”, itself a loanword from proto-Celtic “isarnon” (whose descendants include Welsh “haiarn”, for example).
The Celtic word itself is thought to come from a PIE root *is(e)ro-, meaning “holy” or “powerful”, the same root from which the Greek word “hieros” (‘priest’) descends.
The original meaning would therefore had been “holy metal” or “powerful metal”.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *