Word of the Day: whore

The Word of the Day: whore.

 

It may please some of my readers to learn that the word whore and the name Cher are etymologically related.  But how?
The first thing we need to clear out of the way is that w at the beginning of whore.  It doesn’t belong there. It’s orthographic kudzu. It’s linguistic wisteria.  It’s a parasite. People in the late Middle Ages no longer pronounced the w in words like who and whose, so they ended up putting it in print where it had never been before, to begin words that should have begun with ho or hu.  The Anglo Saxon word is hure (German Hure, in pristine condition).


The next thing to do is to apply Grimm’s Law.  Yes, it’s the Jakob Grimm of the Fairy Tales. The Law says: Thou shalt not enter a gingerbread house. Actually, it doesn’t say that.  It is a law associating consonants in the Germanic languages with consonants in Proto Indo European, which was the language that Proto Indo Europeans spoke.  We’ll meet up with this Law often in these pages.  Here, the Law tells us, if we have a Germanic word beginning with h, to look for a Latin or Greek word beginning with c (k).  Now, is there a Latin word having to do with, er, um, love, that begins with c, followed by a back-of-the-mouth vowel (u, o, aw), followed by an r?  Indeed: cara, feminine of carus, dear, beloved.  From that word and its relatives we get, filtered through French, our English charity.  We also get the French cher, chere, dear, beloved. Q. E. D.

The association of love with a high “price” is common to many languages. Our English dear means, fundamentally, precious, costly, as in the frozen phrase, “You’ll pay dearly for that!”  In German, the same word is teuer, expensive, but also precious: Das Kindlein ist so teuer, says the old lady, cooing over the chubby baby in the pram, and calling to her husband to come see, Schatz, guck mal!  That Schatz is just treasure, dear-ling, darling.


As for Cher, it’s painful to hear again her pleasant love-duet with her husband, the late Sonny Bono.  When it came to love, I think they were in perfect agreement: he thought she was precious, and she did too.

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