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 7, 2019

Wariness pays off

Wariness pays off

This collection of words that share a centuries-old root. What do you suppose the root meant?
aware, beware, wary, & guard (the verb)

As you probably guessed, the root word has something to do with wariness — these words all came from the Proto-Indo-European word *wer-, which meant to watch out for or perceive.

*Wer- also gave us some words that define some of the things people might be wary of losing:

wares, warehouse, & reward

And some words that involve storing or protecting those wares:

wardrobe, steward, reverend, warden, & guard (the noun)

It even gave us the word lord, which in the lower case refers to he who guards the loaves & in the upper case can refer to a British noble, or in Christianity, God.

Then there are *wer-’s offspring that help label how we might look up to those who watch over things for us:

regard, revere, & reverence 

And what would we do without outliers? These unlikely words also grew out of this same fruitful root:

hardware, panorama, avant garde, & software

To confuse matters even more, this is only one of the four Proto-Indo-European *wer-s linguists have identified. The other three meant to cover, to bend, & to lift. 

Ah, Language. Nothing like it, eh?

My thanks go out to this week’s sources, Merriam Webster, Collins Dictionary Etymonline & Wordnik.


  1. Ah, so "landlord" would derive from wer as well? He who guards the land or property? Interesting, and also mind-boggling.

  2. Lord=He who guards the loaves. I love it. Whoever has the key to the pantry rules! That was probably literally true in primitive societies.

    So do you suppose a wer-wolf is supposed to be guarding something?

    1. Hi Anne -- It seems the "wer-" in werewolf comes from another root altogether, meaning "man", which means werewolf's translation is a painfully boring "man wolf".