Episode 7: More Indo-European Words

We complete our review Indo-European words which have impacted modern English.  Social terms are explored to provide an insight into Indo-European society and culture.


25 thoughts on “Episode 7: More Indo-European Words

  1. Hi there!

    I have just discovered your podcast and it’s amazing!!! I’ve listened to the last episode and loved it a lot, so I decided to start from #1!

    I have some questions, maybe you could help me!

    1) Is there any relation between the origins of the word eight and night? I see some similarities in others languages (acht – Nacht in German / huit – nuit in French / oito – noite in Portuguese / ocho – noche in Spanish / otto – notte in Italian), is it just a coincidence? I don’t know if you mention it on another episode, sorry if it’s the case!

    2) Another opposites that I was wondering if they could share the same origin: the word cold in German, “kalt” reminds me a lot the word for hot in Portuguese (“quente”, pronounced: /ˈkẽ.tɨ/ ), Spanish (caliente) or Italian (calda)
    I’ve checked and kalt was kald in Old German, which gets pretty close to “calda” in my opinion. Of course, it might be just a coincidence such as number 1).

    3) Could you recommend any material similar to yours in any of these languages that I’ve mentioned? I only speak French and Portuguese fluently, but I have a basic understanding of the other ones and would love to learn more about them.

    Thanks a lot,

    • Hi Viviane, interesting observation. It appears points 1 and 2 are coincidences. Eight derives from Proto-Indo-European (PIE) “okto”. Night derives from PIE “nekwt”. Cold and hot derive from “gel” and “kai” respectively. This is according to the website etymonline dot com.

      Keep listening to the podcast and you’ll find out about how most European languages evolved from a common ancestor (PIE), and how words like the above evolved differently into their current forms. I’ve also learned a lot about the origins of French along the way, since French contributed quite a bit to English after 1066.

      For the third point there’s a good bibliography at this website. I don’t know of any podcasts like this one though!

    • Hi Viviane,

      John covered most of my thoughts in his reply. With respect to ‘eight’ and ‘night,’ I think the temptation to connect them may be based on the ‘-ght’ which they both share. However, as I note in a later episode, that particular spelling is based on a common sound which existed in Old English and which has largely disappeared from the language over time.

      As far as German ‘kalt’ and the various Romance forms you noted, again it appears to be a coincidence. Remember that Grimm’s Law states that the Indo-European ‘k’ sound generally shifted to an ‘h’ sound in the Germanic languages. Since the Latin-derived Romance forms have an initial ‘k’ sound, that suggests that the cognate form in German and English would begin with an ‘h’ sound. But that is not the case with English ‘cold’ and German ‘kalt.’ So that is another clue that the Germanic words are probably not related to the Romance words.

      Lastly, if you are interested in the history of the other languages, I can recommend the following books (both of which I have in my collection):

      (1) “The Story of French” by Jean-Benoit Nadeau and Julie Barlow; and
      (2) “A History of German” by John T. Waterman.

      I should also note that Jean-Benoit Nadeau and Julie Barlow (mentioned above) also have a book entitled ‘The Story of Spanish.” I don’t actually have that book, but you might find it interesting as a speaker of Portuguese.

  2. Fascinating episode!

    I think the word ‘hostage’ may also have come from the same root that you mentioned regarding guest/ghost/host/hostile.

    Etymonline mentions two different PIE roots for ‘ghost’ (*gheis-) and ‘guest’ (*ghos-ti-). They seem to have different meanings, can you provide any light on this?

    • Hi Amir,

      Thanks for the question. The connection between “ghost” and “guest/host” is mentioned on page 303 of ‘The Horse, The Wheel and Language” by David W. Anthony. As I noted in the early episodes of the podcast, that book was one of my primary sources for the Indo-European material. However, you are correct that most etymology sources suggest that “ghost” has a different PIE root. I would probably remove the reference to “ghost” in the “guest/host” discussion if I was preparing that episode today.

      By the way, the word “hostage” also has a disputed etymology. Some sources connect the word to PIE *ghosti (the source of “guest/host”), but others cite a different root.

      • In Russian, “home” is “doma” (is this a known sound shift?), and in the Russian culture there is something called “demavoi”, which is something like “a guest ghost of the house”, which sounds like the the original meaning of “ghost” as mentioned in the podcast.

        • The Russian word “doma” is derived from the Indo-European root word *dem, which is also the source of Latin-derived words like “domestic” and ‘domicile.” I don’t have a Russian etymology dictionary, so I don’t know if “demavoi” is derived from the same root.

          • Thanks for the reply 🙂

            It turns out that the word is “Domovoi”, which means “he from the house” (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Domovoi). I only mentioned this because I found it interesting you talked about the original meaning of “ghost” as “a house guest”, which is exactly what “Domovoi” is – some kind of a ghost which lives in the house.

            I can’t tell for sure, but it feels it is somehow related.

  3. Hi, I’ve really been enjoying this podcast and have been binge listening to it, and started back at the beginning. I was recently doing some research on the history of spectroscopy and was interested to learn that it was coined by Isaac Newton as a combination of Spectre, as in the ghost, and scopy as greek for sight. The translation given was that it was supposed to come across as the ‘image in the soul’, since he was able to show that white light was comprised of the colors of the rainbow. While listening to this episode it occurred to me that ‘spectre’ is actually much closer to the original indo-european word, and I wondered if spectre derives from that word as well. If so, then the word spectroscopy would break down into a double use of the same root word. That might actually be appropriate, since the technique allows us to look upon the divided parts of what we normally look upon as a whole even though Newton wasn’t going for that.

    • Yes, ‘spectro-‘ and ‘-scope’ are both derived from the same Indo-European root, but the former is a Latin root and the latter is ultimately from Greek.

  4. Since college, many decades ago, I’ve enjoyed learning about linguistics and the history of the English language. After reading several books on the topic during the past few years, I recently stumbled upon your podcast, and I *love* it. I’m telling all my nerdy friends about it, so I hope you’ll have even more listeners soon. Keep up the good work, and thank you.

  5. Pingback: The Days of Sourdough | jonathanstrain

  6. Hi there, just discovered this podcast and I love it. Really interesting and thought provoking.

    I’ve been spending a lot of time on etymology websites the past few days, and I saw a note here:


    That the PIE root word for give and take are not necessarily the same, but was believed to be the same before the advent of the laryngeal theory. Since this was specifically addressed in the podcast, I was wondering if you had any thoughts on this.


    • Hi Sveinn. Thanks for the comments. Just to be clear, I didn’t say that the PIE root for the words “give” and “take” were the same. Here is the exact quote from the episode:

      “The Indo-European root for ‘donate’ produced words meaning ‘to give’ in most dialects, but it also produced a word meaning ‘to take’ in the ancient Hittite language. The Indo-European root for ‘give’ produced words meaning ‘to give or donate’ in most dialects, but it led to the word for ‘take’ in Irish. And there are other examples of the ‘give-take’ phenomenon in other Indo-European languages. The same root word produced words meaning ‘give’ in many dialects, but ‘take’ in other dialects.”

      The comment was in reference to a single PIE root producing words than mean ‘give’ in some languages and mean ‘take’ in others. So the reference was to the meaning of the words, not the actual words “give” and “take” themselves. I hope that clarifies the confusion.

  7. Hello Kevin. I’ve listened to all 155 episodes and now I’m going through them again. This time around it struck me that you deal mostly with vocabulary. Is there anything on the history of English GRAMMAR? I studied one non Indo-European language, the Canadian Indigenous language Cree. It struck me that the grammar was very different (verb tenses, word order, etc) but on the other hand, how much similarity there was — nouns, adjectives; subject, object, verb, etc. It struck me that some of this must be hard-wired in our brains. Love your podcast (obviously).

    • Hi Wes. There are some episodes that deal specifically with grammar, but I find it to be a very challenging topic to discuss in the podcast. Grammar evolves very slowly, and it is difficult to pinpoint when specific changes occurred. I will address grammar in more detail in future episodes when I look at how the modern rules of English grammar were formalized.

  8. As a parent, I have noticed many times that small children tend to mix up opposites. For instance, a 4 year old may say “I’m cold” when they mean “I’m hot”. I’ve noticed with my kids that weird mistakes are usually an opposite word. I attribute this to the words being linked in their brain as being related and they sometimes retrieve the wrong one. It also reminds me of modern opposite slang, for instance using “bad” to refer to something great. So it seems a common thing to switch opposites and I’m not sure you can draw any conclusions about a culture based simply on the use of opposites.

  9. 7. 27 minute mark
    Mankind doesn’t mean men are kind, lol. It refers to all humans, men and women. It’s fine that way. It doesn’t create problems. Granted I live in a D state and it may be different in FL and places like that.

    Some of the women (she/her/hers) I know think that word chairman is now gender-neutral and they don’t mind officially having the title of chairman of the board.

    The words stay the same but the meaning to us is not exactly the same as it was back in the day.

    Should each episode have a date attached to it so its obvious when it was recorded?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.