Fun Etymology Tuesday – War

It’s Tuesday! And here we are with your weekly dose of FunEty!

Today’s word is “war” (have you noticed our little trend with violent words lately?)!

From Old English “wyrre” or “werre”, meaning a large-scale military conflict, a word that was, as many English words are, borrowed from Old North French “werre”, Old French “guerre” meaning difficulty, dispute, hostility, fight, combat or war.

A pretty standard etymology, right? English borrowing from French? Want the twist?

Well, here it is!

While the Old English word was (supposedly anyway) borrowed from Old North French, French actually borrowed the word from Frankish (also known as Old Franconian) *werra, from Proto-Germanic *werz-a-, which, surviving cognates suggests, originally meant something like “to bring confusion to”.

Isn’t that an odd twist of things? French borrowing from Germanic languages for a change! But French isn’t the only Italic language to borrow a word from Germanic to mean war, in fact Spanish, Portuguese and Italian also did, which suggests that there was something about the Latin word that made them try to avoid it – after all, borrowing is typically made because of necessity, not sheer whimsicality.

Anyway, the Latin word for war was “bellum”, but see, the word “bello-“ meant beautiful. It had therefore been suggested that the ancient speakers of these languages looked to Germanic for a.. suitable word to indicate this violent undertaking to avoid making it sound like something pretty (although, I suppose, war is often “made” to seem beautiful in some ways in stories and such so perhaps it wouldn’t be so unsuitable after all).

That’s it for today’s FunEty – and wasn’t it fun? French borrowing from Germanic for once!

We’ll be back with more FunEty next week! See you then!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.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