Word of the Day: went

The Word of the Day: went.


Why do we say, “John goes to the pawn shop today,” but “John went to the pawn shop yesterday?” Where does that come from? German doesn’t have it. In the Krautic tongue, people say ich gehe, I go, and ich ginge, I went. The past ginge is in the same corral with the present gehe. So what happened to us?

Our Old English verb gan, to go, to walk, had two past tenses, depending on where you were and what century it was. One was based on a completely different verb: ic ga, I go; but ic eode, I went. That eode seems to be a kissin’ cousin of the Latin ire, to go: cf. exit: he goes out. There was also a very old “reduplicative” past, common in Latin and Greek, rare in German, and almost entirely vanished from English: ic gengde, I g-go-ed, I went. Somewhere along the line people stopped understanding eode, because there wasn’t a present for it. It had been a bad boy that year – sorry. So they borrowed a past form from another verb. The verb wend was sauntering along, minding its own business, when the Linguistic Authorities whistled, “Hey kid, come over here. You got a past tense on you?” He did: went. Compare with send, sent; lend, lent; bend, bent.

But what about the original verb, wend? That appears to be a descendant of the original “strong” verb, to wind = to twist, to turn (cf. Latin vitis, vine; English withy). What if you want a word for making yourself turn here and there, while you are walking along? In the Germanic tongues, you might take the past tense of the original verb, and append a causative -jan suffix to it. The past tense of windan, to turn, was wand (modern English wound). The -j- of the suffix, pronounced like a hard y, high in the mouth, raised the preceding vowel by anticipation, and then dropped out after it had done its work. So we end up with the new verb wendan, to stroll about, to go.

And what if you want a verb to describe your wending here and there and everywhere? Add our frequentative suffix: wander.

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