English: Children dancing, International Peace...

Setting fire to children?

Not what I expected when I began word-nerding today.

Just kidding! I came upon the word kindle, “to light a fire,” in the dictionary and noticed that it had a second definition: “To give birth to young.”

Hey, yeah, Kindergarten: “A child’s garden.” Makes sense! Giving birth and Children are definitely connected.

The adjective kind itself comes to us–through Middle and Old English–from the similar German word kind, “child,” and the Old Norwegian kundr, “son.” Of course, being kind to children is kind of the thing to do, yes? Easy to see the connection there.

If kind is taken to mean as a noun meaning “sort, variety, or class,” it’s easy to a connection to the words kind and kundr as denoting a family relationship or resemblance.

But what about kindle, as in “to light a fire, to ignite, to arouse feelings?” Yep. Both definitions of the word come from the Middle English kindlen, “to light a fire,” which comes from the Old Norwegian kynda, which is kinda like kind and kundr.

Burn, Baby Burn; the mountain's on fire

It seems to all be a knot of similarities and different languages. But the upshot is that Europe is a place of frequent emigration and immigration, wars, famines, plagues, intermarriage, kings and queens. It’s easy to envision different people groups taking on words from one another’s languages as they travel around, looking for places to settle their families or for adventures to share.

So, I’ll just put it together this way: when you have a child, a kind, you are starting a family line, just like the lighting of a fire from torch to torch, generation to generation. The ancients, perhaps during the Old English times, apparently saw it the same way, and connected the two words in their minds. (See the Online Etymology Dictionary link below.)

And, if you think of the concept of paying it forward, then kindness is also like lighting a fire.

Thanks go my trusty Webster’s New World College Dictionary and to the Online Etymology Dictionary. Good old Webster, 1828? Not so much help today. Noah Webster was plain old wrong about the etymology of the word. Guess he was human! Speaking of which:


Discover what Mr. Webster had wrong back in 1828 for yourself by finding the derivation of the word candle. Share your discovery! Was it an understandable mistake, or do we just know more about languages and derivations these days? What’s your take?

BY THE WAY: child has quite a different etymology. Just ‘cuz language is not a straight line activity.



Sons [and daughters] are a heritage from the LORD, children a reward from him. Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are sons [children] born in one’s youth. Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them. They will not be put to shame when they contend with their enemies in the gate. Psalm 127: 3-5