Fun Etymology Tuesday – Like

Another Tuesday comes our way, and so does another FunEty! Before that, I hope that you’ll like that all our FunEty and our Patron Saints are now also available on the blog!

And speaking of like, that is our word for today!

This little word is extremely versatile and has multiple uses, for example as an adjective, a preposition, a noun, etc.

I suppose then that it is only appropriate that it is also of multiple origins.

Partly, like is a variant or alteration of another lexical item, ylike, from Old English gelic, meaning similar or identical. The Old English word can, however, be divided into two parts: the prefix ge- and the base líc.

The former could be used to denote quality or condition in words where the associative sense recognises something that makes the connection appropriate, convenient or based on similarity (like gecynd – gecynde, meaning nature – natural.

The latter, from Proto-Germanic *lîkom , meaning form or shape, likely referred to the body. Cognate developments might, however, suggest that it had some specific feature that denoted the dead body specifically! You see, in most other Germanic languages, the Proto-Germanic word has come to denote just that (for example Dutch lijk, German leiche, Danish lig, all meaning corpsecadaver or dead body).

Isn’t that interesting?

Now, let’s add a twist:

This word developed differently in the north and the south of England!

In the south, the normal development was lich(e), but in the north, the development was like. One hypothesis is that this might be due to a partial borrowing from Old Norse glikr. As I am sure that you remember, there were plenty of Vikings around in the north of England during the later Old English period, which could explain the differences in the development of this Old English word.

So there you have it – the somewhat convoluted development of the modern-day adjective (and plenty of other things) like!

(As a final note, this does not represent the development of the verb like, which, though undoubtedly related, comes to us from the Old English word lician.)

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