November 22, 2006

happy etymological thanksgiving!

Courtesy of Merriam-Webster:
Word History of the Month: Pilgrim

Americans associate Thanksgiving with the Pilgrims, but that name was not applied to the Puritans (by Governor William Bradford) until 1630, nine years after the first Thanksgiving. Back in 1620, when the Mayflower crossed the Atlantic, its passengers referred to themselves as Puritans.

Puritan has its origin in the Latin word for purity, a reflection of the religious group's intent to purify the Church of England. So where does Pilgrim come from? [...]

Pilgrim comes from the Latin words per (meaning "through") plus ager (meaning "land, field"), which were combined into the adjective pereger, used to describe a person traveling abroad. Eventually, this developed into peregrinus, meaning "a foreigner."

Appropriately enough, the word peregrinus traveled far and wide (from Latin into Old French, then Middle English, and eventually modern English). From the very earliest days of Christianity, it was customary for Christians to journey to places of religious significance. A person making such a pilgrimage was also known as a peregrinus, which in Late Latin became peligrinus. In Old French, the word became peligrin, which was borrowed into English around 1200 as pelegrim or pilegrim, becoming pilgrim in modern English.

After William Bradford first used the term pilgrim to refer to the Puritan settlers of Massachusetts, Cotton Mather also used the word in his history of New England, published in 1702. At the 1820 bicentennial of the Plymouth settlement, Daniel Webster spoke eloquently of "our homage to our Pilgrim Fathers," and this name has since become common usage.

So what about other words associated with Thanksgiving?

Turkey was used synonymously with Guinea-fowl (an African bird) in the 16th century.

The African bird is believed to have been so called as originally imported through the Turkish dominions; it was called Guinea-fowl when brought by the Portuguese from Guinea in West Africa. After the two birds were distinguished and the names differentiated, turkey was erroneously retained for the American bird, instead of the African. From the same imperfect knowledge and confusion Meleagris, the ancient name of the African fowl, was unfortunately adopted by Linnæus as the generic name of the American bird. [OED]

Cranberries used to be known as "marsh-whorts, fen-whorts, fen-berries, marsh-berries, moss-berries".

The name appears to have been adopted by the North American colonists from some LG. source, and brought to England with the American cranberries (V. macrocarpon), imported already in 1686.... Thence it began to be applied in the 18th c. to the British species (V. Oxycoccos). In some parts, where the latter is unknown, the name is erroneously given to the cowberry (V. Vitis Idæa). [OED]

In linguistics, the term "cranberry morph" is used for a morpheme (morphemes are the smallest meaningful elements of language, such as "tree", "dog", "-er", "the", "-ness") that only occurs as part of a complex word. Unlike strawberry, blackberry, or gooseberry, cranberry cannot be separated into two free roots, cran and berry. So cran is a "cranberry morph", just like couth (which only occurs in the combination "uncouth") .


Stuffing comes from stuff, which was borrowed into Middle English from French (estoffer). The verb was first used to express the furnishing of an army with men or weapons. Its cuisine-related use also goes back to Middle English. In Shakespeare's Taming of the Shrew someone goes to the garden for parsley to stuff a rabbit. [OED]

Finally, cornucopia comes from Latin cornu copia, literally "horn of plenty". Another word related to "copia" is the adjective copious. Copia itself is based on "ops" (wealth), which is also the root of the adjective opulent.

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