So who will you believe: me or your lying eyes? That sarcastic line or some variant of it has become popular in recent years, and today it seems an apt way to begin a follow-up to the previous post about Spanish azor. English translates the word as ‘goshawk,’ etymologically a goose-hawk, even if the bird also preys on many animals smaller than a goose.
The word hawk is native English, having developed its modern form as a gradual simplification of Old English hafoc. It’s only coincidental that a hawk can create havoc among the birds it preys on, but an f sound is pretty similar to a v sound, lacking primarily its voicing. Replace the f in Old English hafoc with the similar v, and you begin to see the resemblance of hafoc to the verb have, which is in fact a native English relative. How nicely that accords with Spanish azor, which the previous post pointed out developed from Vulgar Latin *acceptor. To accept something, after all, is then to have it. But the relationship is even more striking. Vulgar Latin *acceptor was based on the Latin verb capere that meant ‘to seize, take, grasp,’ and that verb had descended from the same Indo-European root that led to English hawk; it was *kap-, which meant ‘to grasp,’ so hawk and azor were similarly conceived as a description of a bird that seizes prey.
And what about the “believe me or your lying eyes” opening of today’s column? Well, although Indo-European *kap- did produce English have, it did not produce the Latin verb for ‘to have,’ habere, which is the source of Spanish haber. That’s right, in spite of the strong similarity in form and meaning between English have and Spanish haber, etymologically the two verbs are completely unrelated! As much as you may long for them to be connected and feel in the core of your being that they’re connected, their resemblance is just a coincidence. It’s a truth you’ll have to come to grips with.
© 2014 Steven Schwartzman