The top ten: Unrelated pairs of words
John Rentoul is chief political commentator for The Independent on Sunday, and visiting professor at King's College, London, and at Queen Mary University of London. Previously he was chief leader writer for The Independent. He has written a biography of Tony Blair, whom he admired more at the end of his time in office than he did at the beginning.
Sunday 20 April 2014
Thanks to Calum for suggesting this list: I did not believe that there were as many as 10 examples, thinking 'female', 'island' and 'outrage' quite enough excitement for one language. And thanks to Rich Greenhill, whose four examples proved me wrong...
1. Female, not related to male Female is from the Latin femella, a diminutive of femina, a woman; while male is from the Old French masle, from the Latin masculus.
2. Island, isle Old English iegland, ieg, from a base meaning watery, according to the Oxford Dictionary. The "s" came by association with isle, from the Latin insula via Old French.
3. Outrage, rage From Old French ou(l)trage, based on Latin ultra, beyond. Nominated by Edmund W.
4. Uproar, roar Middle Dutch oproer, from op, meaning up, and roer, meaning confusion. Suggested by Rich Greenhill.
5. Bridegroom, groom Old English brydguma, from bryd, bride, and guma, man. The change in the second syllable influenced by groom. Rich Greenhill again.
6. Pickaxe, axe Middle English pikoys, from Old French picois, related to pike. The change in the ending was influenced by axe. Another from Rich Greenhill.
7. Gingerbread, bread Originally meant preserved ginger used to make the biscuit, from Old French gingembrat, from medieval Latin gingibratum, from gingiber. Yet another from Rich.
8. Belfry, bell Originally a watchtower, from French berfrei, but because it had bells, it acquired an "l". Nominated by Anu Garg.
9. Muskrat, musk The animal does produce a musky smell, but the word is actually from Algonquin for "red". Suggested by David Shariatmadari.
10. Crayfish, fish From Old French crevice, related to German Krebs, crab. The ending altered by association with fish in about the 16th century. Also from David Shariatmadari.
Next week: Signs with double meanings (such as 'Children: please drive slowly').
Coming soon: Footnotes. Send your suggestions, and ideas for future Top 10s, to firstname.lastname@example.org
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