Ancient Echoes

Latin roots go straight down in the soil like a careful farmer's rows of planted beans. Germanic words are mushrooms growing on the same rotten log, to steal a priceless image from Anatoly Liberman. - D.R.H.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at
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As I was reading the final list I noticed both swirt and swither were awfully similar in sound and meaning to squirt and wither, just for you to confirm it in the next paragraph. English is fascinating.

Thank you for the article


How much of the systematic and stable character of our Latinate words is there because we, in some sense, imposed it? (Or it was imposed for us, by the history of Latin?)

Is there not a similar tangle of “dead” words in the history of Latin? (Which we in English don’t normally encounter, having received – at a relatively late date – a cherry-picked selection of its most durable and most polished words?)

I’m probably just easy to amuse, but I’m fascinated by “sware” (= “answer”), because it looks as if it could be just “swer” without the “an-” in front of it. Modern German has “Antwort” for “answer”, in which the “Wort” part looks exactly like the German word for “word”. So I wonder what might be going on – I imagine these words going through several rounds of re-analysis and re-spelling in different places. (e.g. does German have “Wort” in there because the second syllable has always meant “word”, or is it the result of a centuries-old eggcorn?)

EDIT: I should have checked. Most of this is already explained in etymonline’s “Answer” entry.

We should all be wise enough to look into, and peruse, the many trails of language, zooming out from the presumed clarity of contemporary usage as to see their original breath.
I am grateful for this website. No artifice can replace the depth (and the sometimes unexpected little hints) offered here.


maybe *belliasubmechanicae, in the spirit of gun | Search Online Etymology Dictionary

Savoring the dead sw- words list, echoes came to my ears from my early childhood at my Yiddish-speaking grandparents: swam - “a mushroom or fungus” = Swemml. "sweger - “mother in law” = schwigger. sweor - “father in law” = Schwer. swarken - “become dark” – this is obviously from Schwartz = black. swie - “act of keeping silent” = Schweigen. swound - “swoon” = Farschwummen … and probably more: I am far from speaking Yiddish fluently (it is my "grand"mother tongue … ). Thank you for this bit of nostalgia.


This article brings to mind the Roman roads and aqueducts built straight and to design vs. the Germanic dirt tracks and streams through the north-European forests and hills, with English inheriting both and having both reinforced at different times: first the Romans, then the Anglo-Saxons, then the Vikings, and suddenly the Normans, creating a hodge-podge linguistic landscape, which you so eloquently described as “half-Frenchified Roman marble and local wattle-and-daub”. It’s fascinating how language and landscape share something.