Thursday, May 10, 2012


A Chip Off the Old Block

Anatoly Liberman, "Ten Scandinavian and North English Etymologies," Alvíssmál 6 (1996) 63–98 (at 79; links added by me):
Very early in its history, Germanic developed the syncretism 'child'/'wood'. Compare, for example, Engl. chit 'young of a beast, very young person' (as in chit of a child, chit of a girl, and the like) and 'potato shoot' recorded in the seventeenth century on the one hand and OE cīþ 'shoot, sprout, seed, mote in the eye' on the other; Germ. Kind 'child' and Old Saxon cîthlêk 'tax on bundles of wood'. The association could have been from 'offshoot' to 'child', as in imp, scion, stripling, slip, or from 'chip off an old block', or even from 'stub, stump' (something formless, "swollen") to 'child'. In studying the history of German words for 'boy, lad', one constantly runs into nouns designating 'peg, stump, bundle', etc. (see the etymology of Bengel, Knabe, Knecht, Knirps, and Striezel in etymological dictionaries). The most complete list of such words can be found in Much 1909. In the Scandinavian picture of the world, the descent of human beings from trees (Askr and Embla) finds the well-known complement in skaldic kennings for 'man' and 'woman'. Outside Germania, the Pinocchio myth points in the same direction.
"Much 1909" is a reference to Rudolf Much, "Holz und Mensch," Wörter und Sachen 1 (1909) 39–48.

Related post: Men Born from Trees.

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