Several unexpected answers

The etymology of the English word answer answers several questions about related words in English and Spanish. Answer, with its now-silent w, is descended from Old English andswaru, whose d is not only no longer pronounced but also not even retained in the current spelling. The swaru in the old form of the compound, which has become modern English swear, goes back to the Indo-European root *swer- ‘to talk, speak.’ The first element in Old English andswaru traces back to Indo-European *ant-, which meant literally ‘front, forehead,’ but which led to the notion of confronting something, which is to say turning against it. We see that sense in the Greek descendant anti, which Spanish and English (and other languages) now use as a prefix in so many words. To answer, then, is literally ‘to speak back,’ originally as a rebuttal, but then more generally ‘to respond [to an assertion or question].’

© 2015 Steven Schwartzman

2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. shoreacres
    Aug 13, 2015 @ 21:53:32

    I’ve never thought much about your references to Indo-European roots, but swaru seemed familiar. Eventually, I found it used as a common Indian name, and from what I can tell, it’s related to other words I do know: guru and madhu (honey, mead, or alcohol) come to mind.

    From the maps I found, it seems that India certainly is a part of “Indo-European.” Is Hindi one of the languages that developed from those roots?

    Reply

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