Unschooling Kids and the History of Words

A very cool quote sent to me by De/Sanguinegirl:

In the common words we use every day, souls of past races, the thoughts and feelings of individual men stand around us, not dead, but frozen into their attitudes like the couriers in the garden of the Sleeping Beauty. —Owen Barfield, author (1898-1997)

Your question reminded me of a morning many years ago, when we first started homeschooling. My younger kids were little, and my oldest was about 7, and we were looking through the dictionary to get a good definition of courage.

The etymology of the word was there, part of which is "couer" (heart in French)...I said "Look at this. Couer means heart in French. Couer  > courage...so where does courage come from?"

With her eyes bright, and a sort of "aha!" look on her face, my darling daughter said "From France!"

blessings, HeidiC

NEW Etymology

List of Eponyms
"An eponym is a person (real or fictitious) whose name has become identified with a particular object or activity."

Examples from the "L" list:

Martin Luther – the Lutheran Christian denomination
Alois Lutz – Lutz, Figure skating jump
Charles Lynch – lynching, lynch law
Much etymology is prehistoric, but some new words and phrases have come along within living memory.

a riff from a discussion on reading, by a skeptical curriculum-using mom who wrote:
Reading is a code that needs to be decifered.

I/Sandra responded:

And only the reader can decipher it.

Does spelling matter? Would word history help?

Cipher is from the Arabic word for zero, and has been in English for a long, long time. "To cipher," meaning to do arithmetic, is a word even my grandfather used, who was born in 1898 and lived in Texas. But why a "ph" and not an "f"? Because it came through Greek. Some Greek mathematician discovered the idea from Arabic, wrote it down in Greek, and it came to other European languages from that. "Ph" words in English are always from Greek.

To decipher something (like reading) means to figure out the patterns.

A parent cannot decipher words for a child. Only the child can decipher written language. You can help! You can help LOTS of ways. One way would be to gain an interest in the words you use yourself, and stop once in a while to examine one, its history, why it means what it means.

Holly wrote before she could read too, and she cared about spellings and the easiest way to explain to her why some spellings seem screwy was to tell her WHY they were that way. "Two," for example, has a "w" because it was long pronounced. Still old folks in Scotland and ballad lyrics will sometimes have "twa" and those who like Shakespeare will know "in twain" (as Gertrude's heart is broken, for example, or rather cleft--a little rougher than just broken, and related to "cliff").

Other "two" words where the "tw" sound remains include

Playing with words makes them come to life.

The history of England, of math, of writing, of counting... all clued above and in all the histories of words. Any portal into the universe is as real as any other. If an interest in language or butterflies or patterns or water creates connections for that person to anything else in the world, that can lead to EVERYTHING else in the world.

A parent cannot decipher the whole world for her child, but she can help him begin to decipher it.

SandraDodd/etymology (that's this page)


photo by Sandra Dodd in India, 2011

photo by Holly Dodd in India, 2014


By Gunnora, the Viking Answer Lady.
(A popular SCA source of historical trivia.)

Since Western Europe all originally derived from Indo-European tribes, we find that there were a lot of correspondences between the various branches - not exact, one-for-one identity, but concepts are clearly related. So it's no real surprise to find that the naming and symbolism of the days of the week, and the number of days in a week, might be pretty much the same in all the descendants of the Indo-Europeans.

You can see the day-name correspondences in other languages that descend from Indo-European:

Ancient Greek has: hemera selenes (moon day), hemera Areos (Ares' day), hemera Hermu (Hermes' day), hemera Dios (Zeus' day), hemera Aphrodites (Aphrodite's day), hemera Khronu (Chronos' day), hemera heliou (sun day)

Latin: Lunae dies (Moon-day, Monday), Martis dies (Mars-Day, Tuesday), Mercurii dies (Mercury's day, Wednesday), Jovis dies (Jove's day, Thursday), Veneris dies (Venus' day, Friday), Saturni dies (Saturn's day, Saturday) or alternatively Christian Sabbatum or Sabbati dies (Sabbath day), Solis dies (Sunday)or alternatively Christian Dominicus dies (Lord's day).

Unsurprisingly, the Romance languages clearly derive their day names from Latin, except for Portugese, which numbers the days:
Italian: lunedi, martedi, mercoledi, giovedi, venerdi, sabato, domenica

Spanish: lunes, martes, miércoles, jueves, viernes, sábado, domingo

French: lundi, mardi, mercredi, jeudi, vendredi, samedi, dimanche

Catalan: dilluns, dimarts, dimecres, dijous, divendres, dissabte, diumenge submitted by Liz Castro, who also helped me code this page

Romanian: luni, marti, miercuri, joi, vineri, sîmbata, duminica

Portugese: Segunda-Feira (2nd day, Monday); Terça-Feira (3rd day, Tuesday); Quarta-Feira (4th day, Wednesday); Quinta-Feira (5th day, Thursday); Sexta-Feira (6th day, Friday); Sábado (Sabbath, Saturday); Domingo (Lord's Day, Sunday)

The Celtic languages have taken and preserved the Latin names of the days, and also borrowed heavily from Christian concepts:

Welsh: Dydd Llun (moon/Luna day), Dydd Mawrth (Mars' day), Dydd Mercher (Mercury's day), Dydd Iau (Jove's day), Dydd Gwener (Venus's day), Dydd Sadwrn (Saturn's day), Dydd Sul (sun day)

Gaelic: Di-luain (moon day); Di-máirt (Mars's day); Di-ciaduinn or Di-ciadaoin (day of the first fast of the week - Friday being the second fast); Diardaoin (the day between the two fasts of Wednesday and Friday); Di-haoine or Dia-aoine (day of the fast) Di-sathuirn (Saturn day); Di-dómhnuich (Lord's day)

Irish: Dé Luan (moon/Luna day); Dé Mairt (Mars' day); Dé Céadaoin (day of the first fast of the week); Déardaoin; Dé h-Aoine (the day between the two fasts of Wednesday and Friday); Dé Sathairn (Saturn's day); Dé Domhnaigh (Lord's day)

The Germanic languages, however, are also related. Ares/Mars was equated with Tyr as a warrior god. Zeus/Jupiter was equated with Thórr as the god who hurled lightnings. Mercury was equated with Ódinn, since both had a role as psychompomps, the one who leads the dead to their afterlife. Aphrodite/Venus was equated with Frigga and Freyja.
German: Montag (moon day), Dienstag (Tyr's day), Mittwoch (Mid-week), Donnerstag (Donner's/Thórr's day), Freitag (Freyja/Frigga's day), Samstag (derived ultimately from Latin Sabbatum), Sonntag (sun day)

Dutch: maandag (moon day), dinsdag, woensdag (Woden's/Ódinn's day), donderda (Donner's/Thórr's day), vrijdag (Freyja/Frigga's day), zaterdag (Saturn day), zondag (sun day)

Norwegian and Danish: mandag (moon day), tirsdag (Tyr's day), onsdag (Ódinn's day), torsdag (Thórr's day), fredag (Freyja's/Frigga's day), lørdag (washing day), søndag (sun day)

Swedish: måndag (moon day), tisdag (Tyr's day), onsdag (Ódinn's day), torsdag (Thrr's day), fredag (Freyja/Frigga's day), lördag (wash day), söndag (sun day)

Old English: mondæg or monandæg (moon day); tiwesdæg (Tiw's day, Tyr's day); wodnesdæg (Wotan's/Ódinn's day); thunresdæg (Thórr's day); frigedæg (Frigga's/Freya's day); sæterdæg or sæternesdæg (Saturn's day); sunnandæg (sun day)

Middle English: monday, moneday, or monenday (moon day); tiwesday or tewesday (Tiw's day, Tyr's day); wodnesday, wednesday, or wednesdai (Wotan's/Ódinn's day); thursday or thuresday (Thórr's day); fridai (Frigga's/Freya's day); saterday (Saturn's day); soneday, sonenday, sunday, sunnenday (sun day)

North Frisian: monnendei (moon-day); Tirsdei (Tyr's-day); Winsdei (Wotan's/Ódinn's day); Türsdei (Thórr's day); Fridei (Frigga's/Freyja's day); sennin (sun-evening); sennedei (sun day)

On Apr 1, 2006, k wrote:
My mom chanced to explain spelling in a way that made sense to me with the concept of the Latin roots for many English words... literally one conversation.
I've always done that with my kids, about spelling, because it's a big interest of mine. And it's pretty easy with the Latin/Romance-based languages (words from French, Spanish, Italian or Latin itself, and for those who are starting to glaze over already, some of you might not've known that the root of the term "Romance language" is "ROMAN"—meaning from Latin, again).

So when Holly was grumpy that "two" had a "w" in it, I told her that it used to be pronounced. I know a few ballads with "twa" in it, pronounced "twa." I sang her a few snatches of one of those, and told her it survives in "twice" and "twins."

That was all. Short but memorable.

English used to have a hoiky noise, softer than German's, but English has the same great-grandaddy language as German. 🙂 There were Germanic tribes that kept moving East and crowding the natives of the British Isles further East and North. The Norse (whose language hadn't yet split into several and is also a branch of that Germanic language) were crowding them down from the Northeast. The Welsh and Irish and Scots end up on the edges and in the corners, where they ran out of land to move to. So that's why English has words that look like through and trough and plough and cough, because the gh indicates sounds people gradually quit making. But by keeping the spelling, we can tell "threw" from "through" when we're reading, and English novels from American (if they're writing about plowing).

Words spelled with a k are generally from Norse, like skillful skiing. Words with a k sound spelled with a "ch" (Christmas choruses and chiropractors) are from Greek, or built of Greek parts.

So all that can be frustrating, but it can also make English kind of like an attic full of the coolest antiques, right in your own head.

Apologies to those who might feel about this the way I felt the other night when I asked Keith to help me figure something out and he stood up and headed for the desk saying, "Let me write you out a simple formula." I got tears in my eyes and said, "NO! Just tell me how to do it on the calculator." There are no simple formulas** for me. So I totally understand if someone wants to say "NO HISTORY, just spell it for me."


**—but I can spell formulae and discuss why it's not used as much now and that it really should be formulæ which is hard to put through e-mail and represents a once-common letter called an ash but it was once spelled æsc and is still used in some languages, and survives for Brits and for anal Americans in words like archæology and encyclopædia. And on the door at Raley's where Marty works, someone getting artsy with a computer font used that letter as an X in EXIT, so in roundy cursive-looking letters on the doors it says "eæit" and it bugs me. Is this as horrible as a discussion of calculus to some people? (They probably stopped reading up around "hoiky.")

Some outside links:
Etymology Online

The Story of English

Mysteries of Vernacular, a fun etymology site

Joyce Fetteroll, on the names of months. If you get interested, have fun finding all the originals!

Brief Etymological Review of the English Word-Stock, an article on omniglot, a great language site. This English etymology article has our phases of English borrowings from Latin. Cool!

Links For the Love of Words...

More on words and unschooling:
Words and Parenting English "Strewing"
the difference between "teaching" and "learning" "language arts" typical unschooling days

Indo-European chart from bartleby.com
click to embiggen