HWÆT!!!!!!

THE HISTORY OF ENGLISH IN ALL CAPS

azurewren ASKED:

CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THE ETYMOLOGIES OF “WITCH” AND “WIZARD”?

CERTAINLY!

ORIGINALLY, “WITCH” WAS ACTUALLY NOT SPECIFIC TO FEMALES. THERE WAS A MASCULINE VERSION, “WICCA” OR “WYCCA” IN OLD ENGLISH, AND A FEMININE VERSION, “WICCE” OR “WYCCE.” QUOTATIONS IN WHICH THE WORD “WITCH” IS USED TO REFER TO A MALE MAGIC-USER APPEAR AS LATE AS 1914. FROM THE EXPOSITOR,PUBLISHED JANUARY 1914, QUOTED IN THE OXFORD ENGLISH DICTIONARY: 

 [Near Criccieth] there lives a long-haired, haggard old man whom the people about speak of as a ‘witch’.

BOTH VERSIONS OF THE NOUN ORIGINALLY CAME FROM A VERB, “WICCIAN” (WHICH HAD ROUGHLY THE MEANING LATER ASSOCIATED WITH THE VERB “BEWITCH”) — IT MEANT TO USE MAGIC/SORCERY/ENCHANTMENTS OR TO INFLUENCE A PERSON BY WAY OF MAGIC/ETC. TURNING VERBS INTO NOUNS — CALLED NOMINALIZATIONS — ARE QUITE COMMON, AND IT APPEARS THAT “WITCH” IS A NOUN OF THIS SORT.

WIZARD APPEARED LATER — IN THE MIDDLE ENGLISH PERIOD. IT COMES FROM THE ADJECTIVE “WISE” PLUS A SUFFIX, “-ARD” WHICH WE GOT FROM FRENCH, AND WHICH ALSO APPEARS ON WORDS LIKE “COWARD,” “BASTARD,” “BUZZARD,” “DRUNKARD,” AND SO ON. OFTEN, THE USE OF THIS SUFFIX MAY IMBUE THE WORD WITH A PEJORATIVE(THAT IS, NEGATIVE) MEANING, AS YOU CAN SEE WITH SOME OF THE WORDS IN THE LIST I GIVE HERE.

IN ANY CASE, WE GOT “WIZARD” AROUND THE MIDDLE OF THE 15TH CENTURY, AND IN THE ORIGINAL USAGE IT SIMPLY MEANT “WISE MAN,” AND COULD HAVE A SORT OF CONTEMPTUOUS MEANING — RELATED TO THE NEGATIVE ASPECT OF THAT SUFFIX, I RECKON. IN SOME OF THE EARLY QUOTES, THEY MAKE REFERENCE TO “WILY WIZARDS,” AND THE LIKE.

THE USE OF THE WORD TO MEAN SOMEBODY PRACTICED IN THE OCCULT ARTS CAME ABOUT A CENTURY AFTER THE WORD WAS FIRST INTRODUCED — THE MID 16TH CENTURY. AND FROM THERE, IT GOT SET ON ITS PATH TO THE MEANING OF “WIZARD” THAT WE HAVE TODAY.

THERE ARE TWO PARTICULAR KINDS OF CHANGE IN MEANING WHICH WE CAN SEE IN HISTORICAL RESEARCH: AMELIORATION, IN WHICH A WORD GAINS A MORE POSITIVE MEANING, AND PEJORATION, IN WHICH A WORD GAINS A MORE NEGATIVE ONE. IT IS INTERESTING THAT “WIZARD” SEEMS TO FOLLOW THE FIRST PATH, AND “WITCH” THE SECOND (IT GOES FROM SOMETHING MORE GENERALLY MEANING “MAGIC USER” TO SOMETHING MEANING “WOMAN ASSOCIATED WITH THE DARK ARTS”) — AND THIS SPECIFICALLY HAPPENS ONCE THE WORD BECOMES ASSOCIATED MORE NARROWLY WITH FEMALES.

IT IS WORTH MENTIONING THAT SOME PEOPLE HAVE CLAIMED PEJORATION IS MORE COMMON WITH FEMALE-ASSOCIATED WORDS. SEE ALSO “HUSSY,” WHICH ORIGINALLY WAS SIMPLY AN ABBREVIATION OF “HOUSEWIFE.”

KIND OF AWKWARD, ENGLISH!!!

1 year ago
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    From now on I’m using “wizard” as a synonym for “smartarse”.
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