Words from the Nerd Side

Husband

“Husband” comes from the Old English bōnda meaning master of a  household.  Why hus, meaning house, was added is up for debate.  One suggestion is that it made a nice compound word to translate the Latin paterfamiliās, meaning head (father) of the family. I personally think there was more influence from the Scandinavian languages, where, for example, Old Icelandic is sbóndi; Norwegian, husbond; and Old Danish, husbonde.

Husband as head of the household is the earliest meaning found in extant documents, occurring in the West Saxon Gospels, from about the year 1175. It survived well into the 1980’s, when some door-to-door salesmen would ask me if my husband, the head of the household, was home.  As a single graduate student, I often took offense. The only worse offense was when they asked if I was the lady of the house, which usually meant they were selling something I was sure I didn’t want.

Our usage of husband as the male partner in a marriage occurs a bit later, about 1250. I find that timing interesting,  as marriage was declared a sacrament by the Fourth Lateran Council of 1215. I remember accompanying my parents to the nursing home to visit to my mother’s father, a man who had grown up in North Georgia in the early years of the 20th century. I was taken aback when he introduced my father to the nurses as “Catherine’s man.” Then I remembered my Old English professor talking describing people in the southern Appalachian mountains using Old English syntax and language, much like Canadian French has several holdovers from 17th century European French. I had another light bulb moment when perusing a 1920’s marriage ceremony where the celebrant pronounces the couple “man and wife.”  

The use of husband as a person caring for some resource comes into usage at much the same time as the male marriage partner, around 1250, first appearing as the term for a farmer in Physiologus. This meaning is extended to an appointed manager of a household or an establishment, in the Polychronicon in 1387. As a later example, the Minutes of the Hudson’s Bay Company in 1674 refer to the agent of a ship’s owner as a ship’s husband, responsible for the supervision of the ship’s business while in port.

The winning entry for most interesting usage of husband I found in the Oxford English Dictionary (my go-to insomniac reading) is, “with reference to the sexual system of Linnaeus, a stamen.” It appears in a letter from J. Logan dated 19 June, 1736. A close second is the husband tree, a tree or vine supporting a grapevine, from Arte of Rhetorique, 1553.

There is also the related term of  husbandry, which survives to this day as animal husbandry, but that exploration will have to be the subject of another post. 

Words from the Nerd Side

Fee and fees

Courtesy of Melinda Van Lone

Why is there a picture of a cow underneath the title “Fee and fees”? Because the word comes from the Old English word, fioh, féo, meaning cattle or property. Trace it back far enough, and one arrives at Latin pecū, which also means cattle.  The Latin word for money, pecūnia, also ties cattle and wealth.  In modern English, we get “fees” from the Germanic roots of our language, and “pecuniary” from the Latin roots, but they both lead us to money and cattle.

However, I don’t think I can take Bossie to the bursar at the University to pay my son’s fees for his summer classes.  It is an entertaining thought, though. To be fair, the use of fioh or féo to mean movable property has been around for some time. The Oxford English Dictionary gives the first use of féo as money as the Codex Aureus, circa 870; the earliest usage of féo as moveable property is in Ælfred’s translation of Boethius’ Consolation of Philosophy, circa 888.

I went to graduate school at Indiana University in Bloomington, getting (among other degrees) a certificate in medieval studies. The street running by several of the undergraduate dorms, ending near the Libraries, is Fee Lane. I always wondered why it was called Fee Lane.  It seemed an insensitive reminder to parents of the cost of higher education.  It was only when I team taught a class in Medieval Legal History that my esteemed and learned colleague told the class the history of “fee.” Now I share it with you, as the beginning of a dive into etymology and the intricacies of the English language.

Is there a word you want to investigate?  Leave it in the comments, and I’ll see what I can do.

Uncategorized

Hope

Only in the darkness can you see the stars.” –Martin Luther King Jr.

I find much solace in this quotation, especially when I find myself sliding into the Slough of Despond.  The day job has been tough the last couple of months, and as much as I can tell myself intellectually that job is not the full definition of me or my life, it affects me emotionally. The sting of being unappreciated (in my biased view) has helped fill the creative well, and I can only be pleased with that burst of creativity, while wrestling with the old and half-buried feelings of not being good enough–ranging from being the last picked in playground games to unconstructive criticism on my qualifying exams.

A French literature professor at my college described the Middle Ages as “a starry night,” which, in part, led me to pursue medieval studies in graduate school. I need to remember to look up, because the stars are there.

life

Return from the Mist

Although most people quote the saying, “Time flies when you’re having fun,” I find time also flies when I am stressed, depressed, or busy with not-fun stuff. Last year about this same time, I posted plans for changes to this blog.  Then life slid into an ocean of fog and mist, and I realized with a frisson, that it had been a year, when Eli, of Coach Daddy, asked me to contribute to one of his six-word story posts.

Sure, I have excuses, many of them viable–surgery in January, work craziness in the summer, but nothing is really persuasive. I stopped blogging because I felt I had nothing of interest to say. However, I now know that I write to think about things, and perhaps I am not the only person struggling with the same things.

I do not plan to be political, although I have no problem being contentious. I tend to be more concerned with life, the humanities, and a life well-lived, with strong opinions for which I feel no need to apologize. Feel free to come along for the ride.

EM

First Friday Photo

First Friday Photo Blog Hop

On the way to Fort Ticonderoga, on Lake Champlain
On the way to Fort Ticonderoga, on Lake Champlain

 

My father grew up in Springfield, Massachusetts, although he lived the last sixty years of his life in Atlanta, Georgia.  He often talked about the Berkshires of western Massachusetts and the Adirondacks in eastern New York.  I must have inherited his love of mountains, because even the glimpse of mountains from campus makes me smile. I have assiduously visited all the places he mentioned having seen or wanting to see in this area, and delighted in describing the trips to him.

Want to join, or see the entries, in the First Friday Photo Blog Hop, which is the brainchild of Eden Mabee?  Click here!

 

EM