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, February 2, 2017

To throw

To throw

English gives us many ways to express the action of throwing. Oddly, most these words seem to have been thrown into our language from uncertain northern European sources. Here are a few.

The verb throw appeared in English in the 1300s from the Old English word Ć¾rawan (that first character sounds like th). Initially, it meant to twist, turn or curl. It wasn’t until the 1500s that it began meaning to hurl. Though nobody’s certain of the source of this meaning, some etymologists believe it had to do with the fact that a spinning object (like a football or bullet) can be thrown more precisely than a non-spinning object.

An unspecified Germanic term gave us the word hurl in the 1200s, though it originally meant collision. By the 1300s, though, hurl acquired the meaning to throw. Hurl is related to both hurtle & hurry.

Lob appears to have come into being as a noun during Old English & originally referred to something lumpish, heavy or floppy. It’s unclear how lob morphed into a verb meaning to throw slowly or gently in the game of bowling in the 1800s. Soon afterward, lob was applied to the game of tennis & the use of artillery.

Fling probably made its way to English through Old Norse word meaning to flog from a Proto-Indo-European word meaning to strike. This Proto-Indo-European word also gave us the word plague. It wasn’t until the 1300s that fling meant to throw.

In the 1560s an Anglo-French word made its way into English as jetsam, the act of throwing goods overboard to lighten a ship’s load. By 1848 jetsam morphed into jettison & meant to throw overboard. Soon afterward, it picked up the generalized meaning to throw away.

The word pitch appeared with uncertain parentage in the 1200s meaning to set upright. We see this sense of the word today in the phrase to pitch a tent. It seems that to pitch a tent one needed to accurately strike the tent stakes. By the late 1300s, that sense of accuracy appears to have given pitch its new meaning of to throw. Pitch has any number of other meanings worthy of another post.
Toss showed up in the 1400s from an uncertain, though likely Norwegian source. Originally, toss referred to the sudden throwing of an object. By the early 1700s, one could toss a salad, & by the late 1700s, one could toss a coin.

If you’ve got one in you, throw a comment my way.

Big thanks to this week’s sources: Ralph Keyes’s Etymonline, Wordnik, Merriam-Webster, & The OED.


  1. sk "Lefty" FiglerFebruary 2, 2017 at 11:18 PM

    Wow, Charley, this is the closest to a sportswriting post I've seen from you. Sounds like you're warming up for the baseball season.

  2. Ha! You're cracking me up, Lefty.

  3. I have been going through closets and tossing, throwing and jettisoning like crazy. Funny that you would chose this subject this week!

  4. Ha! Purging is so satisfying. I think I landed on this topic because I've been reading the news, which has compelled me to want to do some serious tossing, throwing & jettisoning.

  5. Haha. Reading the news these days often makes my stomach feel the need to hurl.