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Spalatin, aka Georg Burckhardt, friend of Martin Luther, secretary to Frederick III, was asked in 1510 to compile the Chronicle of Saxony and Thuringa. This was not finished but throughout  this work are 1000 images from the Lucas Cranach workshop, including this family tree. See more at the wonderful  BibliOdyssey and  the It’s About Time blogs. Presumably  one of the wives died in the family above with a daughter born to one wife and two sons to the other. The sons appear to deny any relationship with their half sister by turning their backs on her. It’s hard to tell who is the eldest.

When a family assembles, the immediate and the distant relatives, the cousins and second cousins once removed, there are bound to be some members we stare at  in wonder, incredulous at our shared DNA. Surely not, we hope, too eccentric, too wild, too unlike us! So too with words.

During the research, over a month ago, where students pursued one word through the mists of time, there were similar gasps of surprise. Through the centuries run complex bloodlines – often confusing but presenting us with some remarkable relatives. Tracing the ‘bloodline ‘back to its deep roots (PIE) inevitably one word relative astonishes.

It was up to the students to track down the stories, to ‘root’ out the relatives of each word. This was done in small bursts in the humanities classroom, not nearly as much as I would have liked, but mainly out of school as part of the homework. Before school, during lunch, in emails to me, or after school , students would share their discoveries, hypotheses and plans for the next stage. At the beginning of the year students would often ask, “Is that right?” Now discussions begin with, “This is my thinking so far and here’s why.”

Excited to share their investigations with their peers from another class, students  developed a series of slides to guide them. They made connections between their word and the texts we had read this year. We paired the class up with small groups and they presented and dealt with questions through three rounds.The sharing was lively and animated as they helped their peers to understand the terms root, base element – free bound, or some patterns in the orthography of the word – why a  <y> becomes an <i> when suffixes are added, why a letter doubles.  After the presentations, students made screen-recordings, flatter than the original live sharing,  but  capturing their research for their electronic portfolios. Below is an example of the research and the surprising relatives exposed as one student dug to the roots when investigating two words.

Hop and hope? Related?

Olivia was amazed to reveal a possible connection between hop and hope. Both have Old English roots . Hope, as a verb, is used 200 years before its nominal use. Attested from 800 with a sense of ‘looking mentally with expectation’, it shifted slightly to take on the sense of ‘to desire with expectation, to look forward to.’ And how does that connect to hop? It’s somewhat of a leap, but Klein suggests the idea of ‘jumping to safety ‘ connected to the notion of ‘a place of refuge’ and from there it’s just a ‘hop’ to  ‘hope’.  And as Ms Steven’s class of intrepid fifth grade orthographers noted, the final non syllabic <e> not only lengthens the medial vowel <o> from /ɒ/ to /əʊ/, but also prevents doubling of the <p> when a vowel suffix is added.

‘When you wish upon a star’

Olivia went further to find that a  surprising relative of <wish > is none other than Venus. Wish of Old English wyscan: to cherish, desire , evolved from Proto Germanic*wunsk which in turn grew out from PIE root*wen-(1) to strive after, wish, desire and this led to Venus. Venus appeared in Late Old English and was from Latin, the Roman name for the goddess of love and sexual desire from the same PIE root that produced wish.

Venerable and venerate are obvious relatives of Venus, sharing the bound base element <vene>  from Latin venus ~ veneris but there are other surprising relatives – venom entering English in the 13th century from Latin venēnum a drug, medical potion but also a charm, a seduction with an underlying sense of a love potion. Then venison and venery from Latin venari ~ venatus the infinitive and past participle of to hunt, to pursue.  From the mid 15th century venery had acquired an additional sense where the hunt had become metaphoric and implied pursuit of a different kind – that of sexual pleasure. In assembling the matrix and rummaging through the OED, we discovered the compound word: venefice :’the practice of employing poison or magical potions; the exercise of sorcery by such means’, attested in 1380. This led to a small cluster of words such as venefical, venefic.  All ultimately from the same PIE root , *wen-(1) that spawned wish!

Is <-ison> a suffix as in <vene+ison> ? The OED suggests it is a ‘suffix of ns., repr. Old French -aison, -eison, -eson, -ison:—Latin -ātiōn-em (at a later date adopted in the learned formation, which is thus a doublet of -ison), -etiōnem, -itiōnem. Examples include comparison, fermison, garrison, jettison, orison, venison, warnison.’

However, we thought <venison> should be analyzed as <vene+ise+on> and recorded it as such on the matrix below where it will remain until we util we find evidence suggesting otherwise. When the OED states <-ison> is ‘thus a doublet of <-ation>’ we were doubtful . While <-ate > regularly precedes the suffix <-ion> ,<-ation> is not a single morpheme, rather it is built from the morphemes <ate+ion>. We have hypothesized this to be the case for the so called suffix <-ison> and instead suggest <-ise+ion>.





While you marvel at the words formed around the base element <vene>, there is still more to astound. From the same PIE root  *wen-(1), come the Germanic relatives: winsome , win and ween . Ween attested from 888, with the senses of expectation and hope, opinion, belief and probability, now has faded from regular use, except in the compound  overween and overweening.  But perhaps the most surprising of all is ‘the runic name for the Old English runic letter  ᚹ (= w) and of the manuscript form of this (Ƿ ƿ) in Old and early Middle English'(OED), so called because ‘of it being the first letter of that word which literally means delight or pleasure.’ (Online Etymology Dictionary).

This ancient root *wen-(1)  has given us the Latinate bound base <vene> and the free base elements from the Germanic branch of the family: the homophones <win> and <wynn> , <ween> and <wean>, and of course where we began with <wish>. We noted the echoes of charm, desire and a sense of striving and pursuit resonating through all these family members.

Listen to Olivia’s presentation below.



And with the discussion of venison it seems logical to consider the hunt and  an image from Gaston Phoebus’s book of the hunt. Diseases of dogs and their conditions. (Bel France, Paris, XV th century. Paris, BnF Department of Manuscripts, French folio 40v 616.)


Venery , the hunt or chase, was attested in 1330. The images above are from the Livre de Chasse by Gaston Phoebus. Gaston III, Count of Foix (1331–1391), was known as Phoebus (Latin, from Greek Phoibos: “bright, shining, radiant) and so called either due to his good looks or golden locks ( see 64 of these wonderful illustrations here).

Phoebus, the handsome venerer wrote a hunting  advice manual between  (1387–89) and dedicated it to fellow hunting enthusiast Phillip the Bold , Duke of Normandy, father to the wonderfully named John the Fearless. His hunting manual was made up of four books: On Gentle and Wild Beasts, On the Nature and Care of Dogs, On Instructions for Hunting with Dogs, and On Hunting with Traps, Snares, and Crossbow.  Phoebus obviously took hunting seriously -he owned sixteen hundred sporting dogs and two hundred horses.  However, the excitement in the end may have been too much for him as in 1391 Phoebus had pursued his final bear. He collapsed and died while washing his hands after a bear hunt.

‘Word study at the beginning of the year was quite boring for me; torturous even. But now that I look back at it, I don’t regret anything. I learned about a multitude of things related to words. I learned about how to use my sources to help me find the root of a word, to find its origin, to break it up into morphemes, and to get deeper understanding of the word. Now I could tell you the denotation of exclusion for example, I could tell you all about hope, and how it connects to wish, and how wish connects to Venus… It’s a never ending cycle of possibilities, and you learn so much from the experience of looking deeper into a word and its history. We haven’t only looked into the morphemes of words; but we’ve also thought about how words and their meanings connected to the topics we were studying. This year, I went into depth with the word “Hope”, and this experience has taught me to look at words differently.’ (from Olivia’s year long reflections on her portfolio)

Scroll to the bottom of the page on the V&A site here to experience the sounds of a medieval hunting song  known as a caccia ( Italian for chase) Hounds At Court and Dogs in the Forest.To further pursue terms of venery read here and marvel at the poetic terms often referred to as company terms or collective nouns,such as a murmuration of starlings, an unkindness of ravens, a murder of crows, a singular of boars, a tiding of magpies. If entranced by these and you wish to pursue these further, then read an earlier post  here.