Though these days the term wordmonger refers to "a writer or speaker who uses language pretentiously or carelessly," please join me in proposing a new meaning. A fishmonger appreciates and promotes fish, therefore, a wordmonger does the same for words.

Thursday, December 17, 2015



In this season of giving, why not take a look at the word give?

Give is a word that has been with English speakers for a very long time – actually, even before we had a language called English to speak. Give takes up a whopping seven and a half pages of the OED & has seventy-two meanings, both transitive & intransitive. Wow.

Give came from the Proto-Indo-European word ghabh-, which interestingly meant to have, to hold, to give & to receive. This means that every one of the original meanings of ghabh- can be associated with the holiday season.

Some intriguing bits of trivia:

-The reason we can give someone a cold is the thankfully forgotten belief that by infecting others we can heal ourselves (give someone a cold while taking that person’s health).

-In Old English give started with a y & was spelled yiven (mostly). Nobody knows why, but it looks as though give’s Old Norse cousin gefa (give) influenced it enough to change that initial letter.

-The idiom I don’t give a ____ has been around since the 1300s. Early words that filled in the blank were a straw, a grass & a mite.

-The idiom what gives? was born in the 1940s.

-The related word gift showed up in the 1300s. In Swedish, gift means poison.

-One of the earliest English meanings of gift was natural talent, inspiration

-Some other idioms that employ the word give include:
-give up
-give the finger
-give someone a break
-give the shirt off one’s back
-give someone the shaft
-give someone the nod
-give someone the evil eye
-give someone five
-give someone the creeps
-give someone a shot
-give someone the third degree
-give someone the low down
-give someone the green light
-give someone a hard time
-give someone a hand
-give someone some skin
-don’t give up our day jobs

May this season of giving be very good to you.

Big thanks to this week’s sources Learn American English Online, Wordnik, Etymonline, & the OED


  1. That is very interesting. Nice to know that the word give has been around for such a long time and that it is such a big word. I'm glad we don't feel the same about giving each other our colds these days. At least we give a hoot if we get someone sick (had to sneak that one in there) Happy giving and receiving!

  2. Hey Christine - thanks for dropping by & giving a hoot.

  3. Fascinating that the root word meant both to give and to get. And we should give you kudos for enlightening us once again!

  4. Gracias, Anne for the kudos, given & received.