Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Etymological Investigations: Words Ending in "-ig"

We love learning about the origins of words here at The Lingua File, so today we're going to do some etymological sleuthing. Specifically, we're going to look at the etymology of words ending in "-ig".

While this may seem like a random group of words, I decided to focus on them because I recently found myself pondering why we use the word "sprig" when talking about plants like parsley and mistletoe. At the same time, I realized that the final "-ig" somehow makes it sound like a "happy" word to me. In fact, most "-ig" words seem to give off a positive, almost whimsical feeling, from "jig" and "zig" to "fig" and "pig", so today we're going to see whether they have similar origins.

Sprig - The origins of the word sprig are unknown, but it is thought to be related to the word spray, which is also used to refer to a small branch of a plant. Both words might have come from the Old English word spræc, which means "shoot, twig".

"Nap time is over, mom!"
Twig - While this is yet another word that refers to a small branch of a plant, we know that it comes from the Old English word twig, which is of Germanic origins. The Dutch word twijg and the German word Zweig are two of its cognates that evolved separately from Proto-Germanic.

Pig - It's not uncommon for animal terms to have mysterious origins, and pig is no exception. However, we do know that it has been used to insult people since the 1540s, and has been specifically used to insult police officers since the early 1800s.

Dig - The verb dig also has mysterious origins, though it might be related to the words ditch or dike. It may also have made its way into English from the Old French word diguer. In any case, we do know that the old slang usages of dig to refer to understanding something ("You dig?") or liking something ("I dig you") date all the way back to the 1930s.

Big - This everyday adjective was first used around 1300 in northern England to mean "powerful, strong", but its origins are unknown. It is thought to be related to the Norwegian word bugge, meaning "great man". Its usage in reference to size began in the late 1300s.

Zig - Interestingly, the word zigzag was originally used in English to refer to the layout of garden paths. It comes from an identical French term that dates back to the 1670s, but it wasn't shortened to the verb zig until the 1960s.

Fig - This tasty fruit gets its name from the Old French word figue. It evolved from the Latin word ficus, which is still used today as the genus of the over 800 species of plants that are known as "figs".

A stanhope gig, which was named after a British sportsman.
Jig - A "lively dance" by definition, the word jig is thought to be related to the Middle French word giguer, meaning "to dance". The usage of jig in reference to a trick, as in the old slang phrase "the jig is up", dates back to the 1700s.

Swig - Yet another mysterious "-ig" word, but it has been used to refer to "a hearty drink of liquor" since the 1600s.

Gig - Finally, we have gig, which was originally used in English to refer to both a two-wheeled horse-drawn carriage and a small boat in the late 1700s. It is thought to be related to the Middle English word ghyg and the Danish word gig, which both mean "spinning top", or various Germanic terms for "fiddle". It wasn't used to refer to a job or musical performance until the 1900s.