I am not one for posting on consecutive days, but today marks one year since I first launched this curious endeavor. I looked through all the many words I mashed up these 365 days–86 focal words, to be precise–and it indeed tells a story.
From one angle, it tells my story, beginning the project in Minneapolis and continuing on in Laguna Beach, California, with new work and adventures along the way, with sundry interests and concerns riddling the post week after week. From another angle, it tells our story, with words inspired by news that broke throughout the year or prompted by the very events we use to measure our lives year after year. And from yet another angle, I like to think it tells (a very small part of) our broader, human story, glimpsing ever so briefly into how we perceive, structure, and communicate our thoughts, our lives, our worlds through words and their changing meanings.
What is year, anyways? Year is a from the Old English gear (“year”). The Oxford English Dictionary can date it before 960. It many Germanic cousins all descended from a Proto-Germanic *jeram or *jærom, meaning the same. Other cognates include the Greek hora, source of Latin hora, French hore, and English hour. The Greek hora meant “season” or “part of the year” as well as “part of the day,” hence, ultimately, hour.
Eastern European cognates are “spring.” So, originally, Earnest Weekley maintains, a year was probably “spring” or “turn of the year.”
One of my favorite parts of tracing these etymologies is not only the little insights I stumble upon in the roots of words, but the little discoveries and connections many of my sources make in their entries. For year, take Eric Partridge’s on hora:
L[atin] ‘hora’ derives from Gr[eek] ‘hora,’ a season, hence a period of the day, an hour, whence ‘Horai,’ the three goddesses presiding over the seasons of the year, whence also the [compound] ‘horoskopos,’ lit[erally] ‘hour-surveyor,’… that part of a zodiacal sign which comes above the horizon at a given moment, hence a diagram that, showing the twelve signs in position, enables astrologers to predict a person’s life…
Directly, historical linguistics reconstruct a Proto-Indo-European *jer or *yer for year and meaning the same, but a possible, deeper Proto-Indo-European origin is in ei (“to go”) might explain year as “that which goes” or “that which passes.” (This little verb lives on in everything from exit to ion to sudden.) What could be more basic, more essential, more appropriate? Indeed, I go on.
Thanks to you, my readers, followers, commenters, and retweeters, who’ve chased many an etymological rabbit down the hole with me in this period. I am not one to get too personal either, but special thanks, too, to my fiancée, who I get to call my wife later this month, for putting up with my many hours with my head in dictionaries and fingers at the keyboard.