Posts tagged ‘Noah Webster’

Word Nerd: Kindle and Kinder

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

Word Nerd Wednesday: Epiphany

Pietro Perugino - The Adoration of the Magi (E...

Pietro Perugino – The Adoration of the Magi (Epiphany) – WGA17259 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s not January 6, but last week’s Word Nerd discussion about capturing moments with our loved ones made me think of the word Epiphany, since an epiphany is, in itself, a moment.

Epiphany comes from the Ecclesiastical Greek. I’m not sure why church Greek gets a different etymological designation than plain old Greek, but epi- means “upon” and phanein means “to show.” I love the very churchiness of this word, since Jesus was God showing himself upon the earth.  

Noah Webster’s 1828 Dictionary says Epiphany is “A Christian festival celebrated on the sixth day of January, the twelfth day after Christmas, in commemoration of the appearance of our Savior to the magians [Magi] or philosophers of the East, who came to adore him with presents; or as others maintain, to commemorate the appearance of the star to the magians, or the manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles. Jerome and Chrysostom take the epiphany to be the day of our Savior’s baptism, when a voice from heaven declared, “This is my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased.” The Greek fathers use the word for the appearance of christ in the world, the sense in which Paul used the word. 2 Tim. 1.10.”

What a moment for those magi it must have been to look down into the face of little Jesus and know in a sudden rush: This is God. Epiphany, indeed.

 With a lower-case e at the beginning, epiphany is “a moment of sudden intuitive understanding; flash of insight.” An aha moment!

This was from Webster’s New World College Dictionary, Fourth Edition, 2006. How very interesting that somewhere between 1828 and 2006, epiphany leaked out of church language and into common English. But then, aren’t most epiphanies a spiritual experience? An epiphany is just different than simply realizing or coming to understand something, yes?

In the etymology of epiphany, Webster’s New World sent me to fantasy, so of course, I did as I was bid. I discovered  that the Greek phanein came from the Latin phantasia, which means “idea or notion.”

Epiphanic, even!

WORD NERD CHALLENGE OF THE WEEK: Find some words–other than fantastic or epiphanic–that come from the roots phanein and phantasia. Remember, Greek doesn’t have a  letter f, rather the letter phi, so think about ph. (This is also a spelling tip. If you know the word in question derives from the Greek…you’re probably going to have a ph, not an f. Then there are words like fantasy that kinda derives from both, since Greeks and Latins shared words back and forth. But that’s life in the English language.)

AND A QUESTION: What is your epiphany about who Jesus of Nazareth is? I urge you to seek that epiphany if you’ve not yet decided who Jesus is. John 14:6 is a great place to start. Look it up on the BlueLetterBible website.

My own epiphany about Jesus came when I was sitting alone in my college room, desperately not wanting to be a goodie-two-shoes Bible-thumper. But I knew I couldn’t take the part where the Bible says He came to die for my sins—MY sins—and leave the part where He is the only way to heaven. Or the parts where He claimed to be God. I suddenly realized I had to believe it all, or none of it. To do any less is to take things out of context, and to a Word Nerd, context is everything. I walked out of that dorm room a different person.


(Thanks once again to my trusty Webster’s New World College Dictionary, Fourth Edition.)

Word Nerd Wednesday: More of the Same

WORD NERD WEDNESDAY By Voni Harris (11-2-11)

This week’s word study? Tautology.

Here’s a tautology (from Noah Webster’s 1828 Dictionary):

The dawn in overcast, the morning low’rs; And heavily in clouds brings on the day.

Title page of "A Dictionary of the Englis...

How about:

Necessary essentials  Widow woman   Insanely crazy        Grown man

What if I added some biological tautonyms to the mix?

bison bison           

gorilla gorilla

One final tautology:

Unnecessary redundancy

I think you’ve got the idea!

The Greek tauto- means identical, from to auto- meaning “the same.” Logos,  of course, means “speech, word, reason, account” in the Greek. So, tautology is the use of unnecessary words meaning the same thing. The Webster’s 1828 defines it this way: A repetition of the same meaning in different words; needless repetition of a thing in different words or phrases; or a representation of any thing as the cause, condition of consequence of itself.

            BONUS: auto- describes things that are “acting or directed from within.” In other words–acting or directed by themSELVES.

According to my American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (1969), a tautology is also “a statement that is true because it provides for all logical possibilities; for example: The earth is either round, or it isn’t round.” If you ask my husband if a baby is a boy or a girl, he’ll say, “yes.”

The word –nym is from the Greek, and it means “name.” In a tautonym, the animal has the same official scientific name in both the genus and species. A pseudonym, is a false (pseudo) name, though authors call it a pen name to make it less, well, illegal-sounding. A patronymic is a name from your father (patri-), such as Fitzgerald, meaning “son of Gerald.” [Isn’t it amazing what we’ve taken the pains to name?]

To take a moment to credit: I used mainly the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language for my prefix, root word, and suffix definitions, but consulted Webster’s New World College Dictionary, too. We’re a multi-dictionary family. ‘Cuz I am a Word Nerd.

WORD NERD CHALLENGE OF THE WEEK: Create a tautology, either of the verbal or logical variety. Of course, share them as a comment.

Blessings, Voni