Kenneth Setzer

One of my Favorite Creepy Words — and Why

As a young linguist (I love saying that, though it sounds way pompous), I most loved the little tidbits of linguistic lore some of my favorite professors would bestow on us, like pearls of wisdom. It seemed that way at the time anyway. One I fondly recall was told to the class by Professor Hall, an old guy with a white beard, tattoos, and a cane carved with a dragon head. He dug historical linguistics, as do I, and said the word bishopric (the diocese under a bishop) was the only word in modern English that still used the suffix -ric. It means, more or less, kingdom, and is cognate with German reich, (kingdom) but without reich‘s unfortunate connotations. You can certainly see the relation — both are realms within a specific cordon, and they sound similar.

An Eldritch Woods

Ah but I stumbled on ONE MORE example of -ric in current usage, albeit rare. I regret I don’t recall where I first read it, but eldritch was a word I had to memorize. It means eerie, spooky, or uncanny. The -ritch of eldritch means kingdom, and is derived from Old English rīce, i.e. kingdom. It’s the same as the -ric in bishopric. The el of eldritch expresses odd or strange, thus, historically, eldritch means something like strange place/realm, but its current meaning is just plain spooky.

Note: Some etymologies claim the word’s origin is more like elf-rīce meaning something like realm of the elf. Undoubtedly, that’s an even cooler derivation.

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This entry was posted on August 21, 2012 by in gnome, language, linguistics and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , .

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