Some of you who know me, knows that i am here in Iceland right now for studies in the English and the Icelandic language. It couldn’t be better done here, even, actually, for studies in the English language. Of course, a language is always best studied in the country it is being used as a mother tongue, but for the history of the English language, Iceland is a brilliant place to study etymology.
What is etymology then? Etymology is the study of the history of words – when they entered a language, from what source, and how their form and meaning have changed over time. The word etymology itself comes from the Greek ἔτυμον (étymon, true meaning, from ‘etymos’ true) and λόγος (lógos, word). The term was originally applied to the search of supposedly “original” or “true” meanings of words, on principles that are rejected as unscientific by modern linguistics.
Iceland IS an awesome place for wider studies within this field due to its well-preserved grammatical system and its close ties to both the other Nordic tongues, but also for its close relation to the English language. A word as, for instance, “air” (being itself a borrowed word from Greece (aer (gen. æros) “air” (related to aenai “to blow, breathe”))) was called “lyft” in Old English. If you are Nordic, this is not at all hard to understand, since “air” is “loft” in Icelandic, “luft” in Swedish, Norwegian (both New Norwegian and the Book language), and in Danish and Faroese.
Here’s a little quiz for you..if you are able to translate this, please drop a note! 😉 The quote is from the 13th century by a noble man named Robert of Gloucester.
“Vor þe more þat a mon can, þe more wurþ he is.”
//Robert of Gloucester