Wednesday, August 27, 2014


Words mention here tend to be Latinate, but occasionally we need to be reminded that people on the British Isles had a language of their own. The native words tend to be more common or bawdy. Scud and its twin Scut, together with the twins Scuddle and Scuttle, represent a confluence of English and Latinate origins.
Overhead, stars shone intermittently through scudding clouds.
Assassin's Apprentice by Robin Hobb

In our example sentence, we see the English origin. Starting with scut, a rabbit's tail, we get all the meanings that have to do with speed. Metaphorically, that rabbit's tail might also be the etymological origin of meanings that include short skirts, various parts of the female anatomy, loose women and pornography, demonstrating that once a word moves in the direction of sex, no one can stop its inevitable decline.

On the other hand, we have the Latin word for dish: scutella. This etymology gives us coal scuttle, and the nautical meaning of a hatch cover, which by association led to the hatch itself, and ultimately adding a hole in the hull use to scuttle (sink) a ship.

In addition to these traditional etymologies, one more word origin needs to be considered: mouth fun. Scut, scud, scuttle, scuddle are just so much fun to say (by English speakers), that if the sounds didn't mean something, a meaning would be assigned to them, possibly many meanings as demonstrated above. This might be the etymology for the scut work, kitchen clean-up, and drudgery meanings. These just sound right.

In summary when you start with a fun sound, a rabbit's tail, and a dish, and almost a thousand years of unfettered imagination, almost anything is possible as words scud through our fascinating language.

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