The Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R Tolkein
The Old English word for bread was hlaf, from which we get loaf; and the old English division of labour was that women made bread and men guarded it. The woman was therefore the hlaf-dige and the man was the hlaf-ward.
Hlafward and Hlafdige
Hlaford and Hlafdi
Lavord and Lavedi
Lord and Lady
But of course Tolkein, who was a professor of Old English, would have known that.
Wuthering Heights, by Emily Bronte
Emily Bronte wrote that: “Wuthering Heights is the name of Mr. Heathcliff’s dwelling. ‘Wuthering’ being a significant provincial adjective, descriptive of the atmospheric tumult to which its station is exposed, in stormy weather.” That’s because wuthering is a variant of the Scots withering which meant a gust of wind or a fit of coughing. Meanwhile, the Old English hiethu, from which we get height, didn’t distinguish between sky and heaven.
What is the actual connection between disgruntled and gruntled? What links church organs to organised crime, California to the Caliphate, or brackets to codpieces?
The Etymologicon is an occasionally ribald, frequently witty and unerringly erudite guided tour of the secret labyrinth that lurks beneath the English language, taking in monks and monkeys, film buffs and buffaloes, and explaining precisely what the Rolling Stones have to do with gardening.
Watch out for an exclusive The Etymologicon competition this Friday on Bookhugger!