Thursday, July 7, 2016

To speak

To speak

Take a look at the following words and ask yourself how they might possibly share a common root:

fairy               prophet           fame             ban
infant            confess           fable        
beckon         affable             nefarious

Hmmm. I must admit, given this list, I wouldn’t have a clue.

The common root here is the Proto-Indo-European word bha-, to speak.

The word ban showed up in Old English about the same time Old English showed up. Ban came to us through Old High German from a Proto-Germanic word meaning banish, expel or curse (all actions which must be spoken). Like the rest of the words on this list, it seems to have started with bha-, to speak.

Beckon showed up in Old English about the same time through a West Saxon & possibly Old High German word meaning to make a mute sign or to speak without words.

Prophet appeared in English in the late 1100s through Latin from a Greek word meaning one who speaks for the gods.

Fairy showed up in English in 1300, through a Latin word meaning that which is fated, & of course, for something to be fated, it must first be spoken of.

Fame showed up in the early 1200s through Old French from a Latin word meaning talk, rumor, report, good reputation.

Affable – came from Old French through a Latin word meaning one who can be easily spoken to. It appeared in English in the 1400s.

Infant appeared in English in the 1300s from a Latin word meaning unable to speak (the in- meaning not & the fant meaning speak).

Confess came from Old French from a Vulgar Latin word meaning speak together or admit. Like infant, it arrived in the 1300s.

Fable also showed up in the 1300s through Old French from a Latin word meaning spoken narrative.

Nefarious appeared in English in the 1600s from a Latin word meaning wicked crime. In this case, the ne- negates the root fari-, which meant divinely spoken, which suggests that a crime is  an activity a higher power has forbidden.

All from a little old word (actually, a little VERY old word) meaning speak.

I’m hoping you might click on the word “comments” below & let me know where your brain went when asked the initial question in this post.

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


  1. Fascinating stuff as usual. I've always wondered when a little one ceases being an infant and becomes a child. Now I know. It's speaking that first Ma-ma and Da-da! This root word helps understand the core meaning of so many of these words, like "fairy". ("I heard tell of these little folk who hide under mushrooms...")

    1. Thanks, Anne, for popping by once again. And be sure to keep an eye out for affable, nefarious fairies.

  2. Charlie, I didn't have a clue. I couldn't see any relationship between any of those words. Whodathunk it was the root word meaning to speak? Like Anne, I'm kinda fascinated by infant and how the word came into being. Another great post. :)

    1. Howdy Paul - Great to hear from you. I'm with you when it comes to "whodathunk". I'm hoping life is being good to you & Bob.

  3. Infant was the one that stood out for me too. I have watched my three little guys go from being in-fants to fants I guess!

    1. Hi Christine - I wonder what that says about the second rate soft drink Fanta. Curious.