Thursday, May 28, 2015

Grandmother Pau

Grandmother Pau

What do Sanskrit, Hindi, Lithuanian, Yiddish, Dutch, Spanish, French, Latin, English & Norse have in common? Hard working etymologists working in the basements of ivory towers have determined these & dozens more all came from one parent language. And since it never got written down & no modern person speaks that parent language, those diligent etymologists have recreated the parent language based on the qualities of the progeny and have called that parent Proto-Indo-European.

One of the many proposed bits of Proto-Indo-European is the word pau, meaning few or little, & for an imagined word in an imagined language, our friend pau was a fertile parent. This week’s post takes a look at some of pau’s offspring, which interestingly tend to refer to horses or poverty.

The word few, meaning not many, a small number, or a little arrived in Old English early enough that it appears to have come straight from Proto-Indo-European. It arrived so early we don’t even know its birth year.

Foal, meaning foal or colt. came to Old English equally early through Proto-Germanic from Proto-Indo-European.

Poor showed up in the 1200s, meaning lacking money or resources, indigent, small or scanty. Its path took it from Proto-Indo-European through Latin & French to English.

In the 1400s filly showed up, meaning young mare, female colt or foal. It arrived in English from Proto-Indo-European via Old Norse.

In the late 1400s the word paucity came to English, meaning smallness of number or quantity. In turn, paucity gave birth to the musical term poco, meaning a little or slightly. These words made their way from Proto-Indo-European through Latin & French before arriving in English.

The word pauper arrived in English in the 1510s, meaning destitute of property or means of livelihood. It also came to English through Latin & French.

Pony came to English in the 1650s through Latin, French & Scottish, and refers to a little foal.

All these words from pau. I’m hoping some of you will leave brilliant theories in the comments section as to what the deal is with horses & poverty.

Big thanks to this week’s sources: Wordnik, Etymonline, Merriam Webster, & the OED.


  1. There is no paucity of fascinating information here, Mr. Monger!

  2. Thank you Miss Allen. Mi paucity es su paucity.