views updated

INDO-EUROPEAN ROOTS. The hypothetical forms and meanings of Indo-European (IE) words reconstructed by comparative philologists through comparison of living languages, the surviving records of their older forms, and dead languages. IE ROOTS are usually printed with an asterisk (*) to show that they are unrecorded; many are also printed with a following hyphen (-) to indicate that an inflectional or derivational suffix follows. The form and meaning listed with a hypothetical root are those that plausibly explain the recorded forms and meanings; they are not primarily assertions about the details of the IE original, but statements about the relationship of extant words in IE languages that descended from it.

An IE root for to fasten appears to have had the forms *pag- or *pak-. It is the origin of LATIN, pax and hence of English pacify, pacific, and by way of FRENCH paix, of peace and appease. The sense development from *pak appears to arise from the figurative specialization ‘fastening together (by means of treaty)’. From the same IE root came Latin palus (stake fastened in the ground), whence English pole, as well as pale, impale, and palisade through French, and pawl through DUTCH. Three stakes fastened in the ground made an instrument of torture probably called *tripalium in Latin, from which comes French travailler (to work hard) and modern English travail and (from MIDDLE ENGLISH times when a trip was no pleasure) travel. One form of the root *pag- was the nasalized *pang-, which gave rise not only to the Latin source of MODERN ENGLISH impinge and impact but also to OLD ENGLISH fang (that which is fastened upon: plunder). In MIDDLE ENGLISH, the meaning of fang was specialized to the plunder of an animal, its prey; in Modern English it has become the tooth by which an animal fastens onto its prey.

Latin also had the descendant of *pag- in pagus (staked-out boundary); a dweller within such a boundary was a paganus, a villager or rustic. The figurative sense gives us pagan directly from the Latin; the literal sense remains in peasant, from the same word by way of French. From pagus Latin also had pagina (little fastening), a frame onto which vines were fastened, and from those vines comes propagate by generalization, and propaganda (those things which are to be propagated) by metaphor; hence also a page, in which the columns of written text are like vines on a trellis. These examples illustrate some of the known outcomes of the IE root *pag- or *pak- in modern English. The reconstruction of the root takes into account not only these forms and meanings but such others as Greek pḗgnumi (to fasten or congeal: compare pectin). The examples trace the outcomes from their source; the reconstruction traces the source back from its outcomes. See ETYMOLOGY.