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 9, 2017

We ourselves

We ourselves

Imagine a word used to refer to oneself in the plural; sort of a we-meets-ourselves word. Today, etymologists write the word *s(w)e-. This Proto-Indo-European word gave birth to a fascinating and diverse collection of words that all relate back to the idea of we/ourselves.

The word self came to us through Proto-Germanic back when folks were speaking Old English. Some time during its stay in Germanic languages it appears to have lost its plural, inclusive nature. 

Another word from this source is secret, which appeared in English in the 1300s, through Latin words meaning private, set apart, withdrawn, or one one’s own.

Sullen made its way to English through Anglo-French. Initially meaning by oneself, alone (in Middle English), sullen didn’t pick up the meaning morose until the late 1300s.

The word swami appeared in English in the 1700s through Hindi. Swami, now meaning Hindu religious teacher, originally meant one’s own or our own master.

Sibling came to us via Proto-Germanic and Old English. Linguists consider sibling an “enlargement” of the root *s(w)e.

And though they appear nothing like their relatives, the words idiot & idiom also came from *s(w)e-. Born of the idea that folks who couldn’t function in society due to apparent lack of mental ability tended to stay to themselves, idiot came to English in the early 1300s through Latin & Old French. An idiom is a figure of speech peculiar to a particular group of people. Idiom came to English through Greek & Latin in the 1500s. The fact that we cling to our idioms as something that defines us appears to have contributed to the existence of this word

All from a little word meaning we/ourselves.

I’d love to know which of these word-siblings you found most surprising. Fee free to use the comments section for such commentary.

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


  1. Etymology is so fascinating. I think what amazed me most is the original meanings of words we use in such a different way, today. Sullen meaning alone or by oneself; swami meaning one's own...

    Does this make writers secret, sullen, idiot swamis penning self-created idioms to our sibling writers? Makes one think...

    1. Omigosh Susan. You're brilliant! How did you know I regularly ponder whether all I am is a secret, sullen, idiot swami penning self-created idioms to my sibling writers?

  2. Sullen and Swami were the most surprising to me too. I often wondered whether idiot and idiom were related, but I never figured out how. All very enlightening, oh Word Swami!

  3. Ahoy Miss Allen & thanks for coming by. Swami was the word that got all this started -- I just love how meanings morph through culture & time.