Fun Etymology Tuesday – Buck (but really, its about julbocken)

The first Tuesday of December and Norway is definitely showing its winter-y side! So, today, let’s immerse ourselves in Christmas-related etymology!

Today’s word is buck!

From c. 1300, this word has come to mean male deer in English, but before that, it referred to a male goat. The word comes from Old English bucca, meaning male goat, from Proto-Germanic *bukkon.

The Proto-Germanic word may have come from PIE *bhugo, which is also said to be the source of Avestan buza “buck, goat”, and Armenian buc “lamb”. Some, however, say that it might be from a lost pre-Germanic language.

Fairly straight-forward etymology, really, unless you want to look very closely into the lost pre-Germanic idea. So why am I telling you about a buck as a Christmas-related word?

Well, as you may know by now, I’m from Sweden.

In Sweden, Julbocken (often translated as the Yule Goat as English has mostly lost the word buck in reference to a male goat) has a very long history.

Julbocken goes back to ancient Pagan traditions, potentially connecting with ancient Proto-Slavic beliefs. The god honored in these beliefs was Devac (or Dazbog), who was represented by a white goat. The festivities therefore always included a person dressed as a goat, who demanded offerings in the form of presents.

Eventually, though, julbocken became the giver of gifts rather than the recipient, and this actually remained the case in the Scandinavian countries until as late as the second half of the 19th/beginning of the 20th century, when it was replaced by Father Christmas/Santa Claus.

But, it remains a very popular ornament in Scandinavian countries and in my own native country, a massive julbock called Gävlebocken is built up in the city of Gävle every year.

Image result for Gävlebocken

In a traditional prank (that tends to get on people’s nerves), it is usually lit on fire soon after its unveiling.

Image result for Gävlebocken
However sad that is, now, you know the story of buck and julbocken!

I hope that you enjoyed that little piece of Christmas-related history, because every week until Christmas, Fun Etymology will give you one Christmas-related word and tell you about its history!

Is there a Christmas-related word that you’ve always wondered where it came from? Let me know! (One can never have too much inspiration in life!)

Until next time!

Fun Etymology Tuesday – Cat

Yet another Tuesday – yet another animal-related word!

Last week, we talked about dog, so it really only makes sense to talk about its ancient enemy (though not always) the cat this week!

Cat comes from Old English cat, from Proto-Germanic *kattuz, from Late Latin cattus. So far so good.

Then, it gets tricky.

The word for this domesticated animal is now nearly universal in the European languages, first appearing in Europe as the Latin word catta. Later, we also find the Byzantine Greek word katta (from around 350) and by c. 700, it was in general use on the continent.

So, what’s the problem, you ask?

Well, though almost all European languages have it and we know that it came to these languages through Latin and/or Greek… then we hit a wall.

We don’t know where it came from originally! We do know that Latin and Greek have it by the 1st century and that most modern languages which have it have had it for as long back as their records go.

The likely source is often pointed out as Egypt. It makes sense: the cat was first domesticated in Egypt (as early as 2000 B.C.), so guessing that the name comes from there is not unreasonable. Yet, early mentions of the word also indicate that it might be Slavonic or even Germanic in origin.

So, like with dog, we simply don’t really know! But here, have a picture of a cat as a treat!

shallow focus photography of white and brown cat

(I know you got my supercute dog last week, but, sorry, I don’t have any cats. Hope the picture will do anyway!)

Fun Etymology Tuesday – Dog

It’s Tuesday! Let’s keep going with one of my favourite animals: dogs!

The word dog is a bit of an etymological mystery. From Old English docga, it’s origin is unknown and.. odd.

It is quite rare in Old English, appearing only in glossaries or in so-called onomastic evidence (that is, in the study of proper names such as Dogbury Hill, an ancient hill fort). That, the OED notes, might be because it was considered informal as there is a more commonly attested synonym: hound.

So, what’s so odd about this word?

Well, despite trying, no likely cognates have been found so far and the word’s phonological form is… problematic. You see, we have a stem-final geminate <g> (that is, a doubled <g> – looking at Middle English forms, the word is often spelt dogg). But the geminate <g> is not due to West Germanic consonant gemination*.

We do know that it eventually replaced Old English hund, which came from the PIE root *kwon- and is still in evidence in Swedish hund, by the 16th century.

We do find words that we might first interpret as cognates: French dogue, for example. Yet, upon further study, all of the so-far investigated words have eventually been shown to be a direct or indirect borrowing from English.

We do know, though, that English has a number of these words that appeared to form both a morphological and semantic group. Aside from dog, we also have hog, frog, pig, stag in this odd little group.

So, in the end, we really don’t know where this word comes from! But, to console you for not getting a straight answer, here’s a picture of Kyra, my own goofy hund! Enjoy your week!

Image may contain: dog, snow, outdoor and nature
Kyra, enjoying a walk in the snow!


*West Germanic gemination was a sound change that took place in all West Germanic languages around the 3rd or 4th century AD. While I’d love to tell you all about it, FunEty is not the place for such discussions. Check out Wikipedia’s article on it in the meantime!

Fun Etymology Tuesday – Lemur

Another Tuesday = another Fun Etymology!

As I’ve done some nature-related words lately, I thought that we’d also take a look at some animal-words! So, today’s word is lemur!

Today, this word refers to this cute little guy/girl:
White and Black Animal Sitting on a Branch

A nocturnal mammal from Madagascar, the animal was first referred to as lemur by Carl Linnaeus (Carl von Linné), a Swedish botanist, zoologist, and physician, in his catalogue of the Museum of King Adolf Frederick of Sweden.

Before that, though, the word meant something quite different…

From lemures, the Latin plural of *lemur, this word actually referred to the “evil spirits of the dead”.

Other than the Latin word, the origin of this word is unknown. It is possible that the word was borrowed into Latin from a non-Indo-European language (perhaps Anatolian or Etruscan). It is also possible that it is cognate with the Greek word lamia, meaning “female vampire” or “man-eating monster”.

But that’s really speculative. We really don’t know, which is not uncommon in historical linguistics.

But, the real question here is:

What was it about these cute little fellows that made Linné think that a Latin word for malevolent spirits was an appropriate name?

Fun Etymology Tuesday – Ocean

It’s Tuesday! Let’s continue with our words relating to nature and take a look at ocean!

A borrowed word from French, ocean starts to appear in English around the early 14th century. However, it appears that it wasn’t very popular because it had to be reborrowed in the mid-17th century.

The word comes from classical Latin Ōceanus, meaning literally the ocean but especially referred to the Atlantic. It could also be referring to a vast expense of something.

The Latin word came from Ancient Greek Ὠκεανός, which referred to a great stream or river. This refers to the “vast river” that the Ancient Greeks believed encircled the world (as opposed to Mediterranean, which comes from the Greek word μεσόγαιος, meaning situated in the middle of the land).

It was also personified as the Greek deity Oceanus. Oceanus was the son of Uranus and Gaia and husband of Tethys (who happened to also be his sister).

And that is about as far as we can track ocean (though some scholars have suggested that it is of pre-Greek origin)!

And that is our FunEty for today!

Fun Etymology Tuesday – Forest

Another Tuesday – another Fun Etymology!

Today, we continue with our nature-related words! Today is a tricky one… Let’s look at forest!

As with many things in historical linguistics, the exact etymology of this word is a bit… unclear.

Coming to English around the 13th century from Old French forest (modern-day French forêt), this word probably originates with late Latin (or medieval Latin) forestem silvam, meaning “the outside wood”, a term hailing from the time of Charlemagne – then denoting “the royal forest”.

If this etymology is true, the word stems from Medieval Latin foris, meaning “outside”, perhaps denoting something like “outside of fenced areas”.

However, there is another suggestion.

It might be that the French word ultimately derives from Latin forestis, originally meaning “forest preserve, game preserve” from Latin forum, meaning “court, judgment”. If so, it might have meant something like “land subject to a ban” – as in, don’t shoot a deer here.

He was poaching in the kings forest. He deered to kill a kings dare.
From Robin Hood: Men in Tights – this particular clip is from Yarn

And that’s is our unclear etymology for today!

Fun Etymology Tuesday – milieu

Another Tuesday, and as always, here is your Fun Etymology!

Today, we’re continuing on another word that has to do with the environment: today’s word is milieu!

A somewhat unusual word in English today (listed by the OED as being used somewhere between 1 to 10 times per million words in typical modern English usage), this word was borrowed in around the mid 19th century from French milieu.

In French, it means middle, medium, or mean, meaning literally middle place. The French word can really be divided into two:

mi-, from Latin medius, from the PIE root *medhyo-, meaning middle


lieu, meaning place (which, of course, you also find in English as a separate noun).

Interestingly, many of the other Germanic languages (including the Scandinavian languages, German and Dutch), have also borrowed this word from French – but in each, it seems to have taken the approximate meaning of the English word environment.

And that’s our FunEty!

Fun Etymology Tuesday – Climate

It’s another Tuesday! Today, we’re doing something on a suggestion. The climate has been a hot topic lately and I was recently asked where this word comes from. So, to answer that question: today’s word is climate!

A borrowed word from Middle French climat, from Latin clima, meaning region or slope of the earth. The Latin word itself derives from Greek klima, meaning region, zone or, more literally, “an inclination, slope”. In the end, we get something like “slope of the earth from equator to pole”. This comes from a suffixed form of PIE *klei-, meaning to lean.

It came to English around the late 14th century. Back then it meant “horizontal zone of the earth’s surface measured by lines parallel to the equator”.

You see, ancient geographers divided the earth into zones (which we still do). The zones were based on the angle of the sun on the slope of the earth and the length of daylight.

Some counted as many as 24 to 30 climates, others 7 and still others 12 climates around the world. (Today, we usually say that there are 3 main climate zones: tropical, temperate, and polar. These can, of course, be further divided into smaller zones.)

Anyway, change of temperature gradually came to be considered more and more important. By the late 14th century, the word referred to a distinct region, considered with respects to its weather. Eventually, the sense shifted to what we find today: the combined results of weather associated with a particular region. This includes the characteristic condition of a country or region with reference to the variation of heat, cold, rainfall, etc. This is a sense that has been in evidence since around the 1600s.

And that’s our story! Of course, today, we talk more about climate change than about climate itself but now you know! Isn’t that something to mention at the next strike?

Until Thursday, when we meet again for a new Early Germanic Dialects post, my dear followers, I hope you enjoyed this week’s FunEty!

Fun Etymology Tuesday – Nuts

Here’s a question for you: what do nuts and nucleus have in common?

No idea (unless you happen to be a semi-proficient Latin speaker)? Neither did I before I did this week’s Fun Etymology! So let me tell you what I just learned because today’s word is nuts!

Meaning the fruit of some trees and shrubs which have the seed enclosed in a woody covering, this word is inherited from Germanic. We thus find it in all stages of development of the English language.

In Middle English, the word was note, developed from Old English hnutu, which in turn comes from Proto-Germanic *hnut. Proto-Germanic *hnut is also the source of Old Norse hnot (modern Swedish nöt), Dutch noot, German Nuss.

But every word has its origin from somewhere, right? So too with Proto-Germanic *hnut. In this case, the word is a descendent of Proto-Indo-European *kneu-, meaning nut, and here is where nucleus comes in!

You see, nucleus derives from Latin nucleus, from Latin nucula meaning little nut. Nucula, in turn, is a diminutive of the word nux, meaning – you guessed it – nut. And nux descends from Proto-Indo-European *kneu-!

So there you have it!

Fun Etymology Tuesday – Wacky

Boy, the Tuesdays keep coming! That’s great, because what else would I do with all these fun etymologies?!

Today’s word is wacky!

An adjective meaning crazy or eccentric, originally comes from the adjective whack, meaning something like a heavy blow. Whack, in turn, comes from the noun thwack, which comes from the verb thwack, meaning to beat or strike vigorously.

While I would like to keep talking about Proto-Germanic origins and so on, I though we’d change things up today. You see, all of these previous stages of wacky are likely echoic (or onomatopoeic) words. This means that the sound alone is the basis of the word. Other examples are bang, splash, cuckoo.

But what about wacky? Clearly, it is not an echoic word?

You’re right, it’s not. It can actually be divided into two parts: wack and -y. Here, –y is a suffix with several functions. Here, it is pretty much telling us: “Look, this word has the same qualities as whack“.

So what are those shared qualities? Well, wacky likely comes from the notion of being whacked on the head one too many times. Imagine the sound of whacking someone on the head – there are your shared qualities!