Last post, the word jar lead us to akimbo, with the latter possibly running parallel to the Latin adjective, ansātus, whose literal meaning of “furnished with a handle” the Ancient Romans likened to having one’s arms akimbo. Ansātus, we learned, is from the noun ansa, a “handle.” Our work with this ansa, however, is not yet done, for it may also be related to ease.

"Elbow room." Doodle by @andrescalo.
“Elbow room.” Doodle by @andrescalo.


We cannot speak to the origin of ease with ease. We do know that English takes ease from the French aise,”comfort.” You might recognize aise in malaise, a direct borrowing of the French for “discomfort.” But the earliest usages of aise in French are actually “elbow room” and “opportunity.” How’d that happen?

Skeat, Weekley, and Partridge conclude that aise, formed from aisance, is from the Latin adjacentia, literally “something nearby.” You can quickly spot the English adjacent. According to Baumgartner and Ménard, “something adjacent” is connected to “the free space next to someone,” which produced an idea of a “nice location” and more generally, “wellness” and “recreation.”

Some, like Norwegian scholar Sophus Bugge, proposed that aise is ultimately from–here it is again–ansa, “handle” of a jug or jar, say. This ansa had a secondary sense of “opportunity,” so the record states, and may have evolved to asa on the roads of the Roman empire, later evolving into French’s aise.

OK, a “handle” is something to seize, to grab onto, an opportunity. Ansātus, as we’ve seen, is “with arms akimbo.” This explains the connection to elbow room. But how do we get to “comfort”? And do we know anything deeper about ansa? For these questions, we are looking at not the handle, but the little hole that the loop of the handle creates.

This is why etymology is not always easy but easily fascinating. Yes, easy is related to ease, as are a wealth of expressions, from “ill at ease” to “take it easy.” I think this is my cue to let jar, and all its many handles I clutched these past two weeks, be at ease.

m ∫ r ∫


3 thoughts on “ease

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