For my latest on the OxfordWords blog, I brave the etymological lair of “dragon,” where I discover everything from herbs, guns, and sores:
23 April marks St. George’s Day. While St. George is widely venerated throughout Christian communities, England especially honors him, its patron saint, on this day. Indeed, his cross, red on a white field, flies as England’s flag.
St. George, of course, is legendary for the dragon he slew, yet St. George bested the beast in legend alone. From Beowulf to The Game of Thrones, this creature continues to breathe life (and fire) into our stories, art, and language – even the very word dragon is hoarding its own gold. Let’s brave our way into its etymological lair to see what treasures we might find.
Read my piece, “Guns, herbs, and sores: inside the dragon’s etymological lair,” in full here.
3 thoughts on “dragon”
The Indo-European Lexicon website includes the word “tarn” (a small mountain lake particularly in Scandinavian & Northern England) as being derived from the same PIE root *derk- “to see” which gave birth to the “dragon” so to speak. The Online Etymology Dictionary meanwhile says: “Tarn – late 14c., mid-13c. in Anglo-Latin, from Old Norse tjörn “small mountain lake without visible tributaries,” from Proto-Germanic *terno”. I can find any other information about this Proto-Germanic *terno” but I can’t really understand a semantic connection with “tarn” and the PIE root *derk- either?
Welsh cognates of PIE root *derk- include “draig” (dragon) the verb “edrych” (to look) and “drych” (looking-glass, mirror) which the dictionary glosses (drych) as “a look; facial expression and in place-names an aspect, outlook especially a favourable one on a sunny hillside.”
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I agree: It’s hard ‘to see’ the connection between a tarn and *derk-. Maybe those mountain vistas give an errant trekker a sudden view of a tarn in the distance? The form of ‘tarn’ also seems a bit difficult to account for.
As for the Welsh, the ‘dragon’ and ‘looking-glass’ cognates really layer on the fantasy!