In my nature photography blog I recently showed a picture of a four-nerve daisy, and in the accompanying text I couldn’t resist mentioning one of my longtime favorite etymologies: daisy developed from the Old English equivalent of day’s eye. A Spanish-speaking student of English has no trouble learning that day means día, and vice versa for an English-speaking student of Spanish. Given the words’ similarity in sound and their identical meaning, both students probably assume that the words are cognates. Wrong! This is one of those striking cases where words that almost anyone would assume are related turn out not to be. Sometimes a coincidence is just that, a coincidence. Spanish día developed from the similar Latin dies, so by Grimm’s Law of Indo-European sound correspondences we’d expect an English cognate of día to begin with a t- rather than the d- of day.
As for the second part of day’s eye, there we do find an etymological connection to the equivalent Spanish ojo. The Latin ancestor of ojo was oculus, where the -ulus was originally a diminutive ending. English eye developed from Old English eage, in which you can still see the guttural consonant that has disappeared from the modern language; that historical -g- corresponded to the -c- in Latin oculus. The Latin and Old English words had both descended from *okw-, which was the Indo-European root for ‘eye.’
© 2013 Steven Schwartzman