Thursday, May 2, 2013



Last week’s post took a look at words that started out in various languages as the verb “to dance.” This week, we’ll consider another action – to chew.

Not surprisingly, our modern word chew (spelled ceowan) started out meaning to bite, gnaw or chew when it made its way from one of the Germanic languages into Old English.

Both chow (1500s) & chaw (1520) are variants of the word chew. It’s also very likely that jaw (1300s), jowl (1570) and cheek (825) were born of that Old English word ceowan.

The Proto-Indo-European word mendh- which became the Latin word mandele, meaning to chew, gave birth to mandible, munch, mastic, masticate, mustache, paper maché & mange (a tiny bit of mildly disturbing imagination will help connect those dots).

Ruminate entered English in the 1530s, from Latin, meaning to chew the cud or turn over in the mind.

Champ, which came to English in 1905, meaning to chew noisily, is probably onomatopoeic in origin.

English is rife with chew-inspired idioms, including:

Chew someone out
Chew the fat
Chew something over
Chew something up
Bite off more than one can chew
Chew away at something
Chew one’s cud
Chew one’s tobacco
Mad enough to chew nails (in my neighborhood, we spat nails in lieu of chewing them)

I hope this post has given you something on which to chew. If so, please let me know what you’re thinking in the comment section.

My thanks go out to this week’s sources the OED, Free Dictionary & Etymonline,


  1. As I remember from childhood, all my paper mache projects looked pretty mangey. But I'm not sure I want that picture in my head that connects mustaches and paper mache.:-)

    Some things to ruminate upon...

    1. Hi Anne,
      I'm with you on the unseemliness of the paper mache/mustache connection. Not pretty.

  2. Ruminate means chew the cud and turn over in the mind? Huh...hard to imagine two more different activities for the same word. That crazy English language.