Monday, October 31, 2011

Eerie Etymology

This Halloween I thought I'd share two really fun linguistic points.

First, the word monster makes its way back to one of the favorite words of all Latin 101 students, moneo, which means to warn or demonstrate. (In fact, you can see that demonstrate and monster are related.) It first meant a prodigy, and then a deformed person. Ultimately, that turned into what it is today. Pretty cool, huh?

Second, the word nightmare is fun. The night part is easy enough to parse, but what is that mare doing? Are we really talking about a female horse? Nope. Mare is an Old English word for a spectre or spirit that would produce a suffocating effect on the sleeper. Above my desk I have Die schönsten Märchen der Brüder Grimm, or The Lovliest Fairytales of the Brothers Grimm. And you guessed it—the German word for fairytale  is cognate with our word for nightmare. Honestly, that explains a lot about German fairytales.

(My source for all this is the Oxford English Dictionary.)

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