‘Weird’ is a hard word to define

It’s about time I wrote an etymology report, and I’m planning on publishing a new one each month. The subject matter should be comprised of either trending words, rarely seen, frequently misused, or words with strangely archaic origins.

The why and how of language is a curious thing.

I’ve always been interested in the origin of words, along with their connotations. On a personal note, as a child, my punishment for stealing or lying would result in copying, by hand, words from the dictionary along with their meanings. I often struggled in such a simple task, when my step dad wouldn’t allow me to use syntactical punctuation marks–I had to write this in full sentences. For instance, I might find a bottleneck like, “The meaning of the word meaning means…” How could you possibly explain anything with that circular way of thinking? I had to dive deeper, discover synonyms, and find other ways of conveying my point to my step dad. Would he become baffled upon reading what I had written? Would he be impressed? Would he even read it at all, I wondered.

This ultimately led me to discover I enjoyed exercising what I’ve learned, kinesthetically, usually by rephrasing explanations in a way that made sense to me. I continued the practice on a 1980 Macintosh word processor that my biological father brought home when I was around the age of 10 (early 2000s) and started typing up passages I liked from our encyclopedia collection (mostly about the habitats of arboreal creatures like frogs and leopards), then I’d stare at them for a spell, mesmerized by the blinking green line glowing amid a black background, and I’d print it out just for added justification.

Then there was Spanish class in middle school. I found a lot of words in English had similar-sounding homonyms, spelling, and associated syntax. This led me toward French, another romance language that I can’t get enough of (though I sound like an ape trying to pronounce a damn thing, no offense to apes). The point is, it’s all interrelated, English steals from other languages to compose a more hardy, marble-mouthed version of some of the most beautiful words in existence, in my opinion.

Now that my backstory is out in plain view, I’d like to take this little habit a step further and dredge up the meanings behind one particular word, monthly if it all goes as planned.

I plan to interview experts in etymology and bring their insights back to this blog, but for now, let’s just jump into the origin of the word “weird” as I think that might be the best word to describe my own blog. I should’ve named it “weird nerd” or some such nonsense, but as a computer lover, the 7331 speak spoke volumes to me. Hence, w3rdn3rd.

Well, it’s about time I get back to my origins for deeming this domain to be centered on nerdy words, then, ey?

Since I have no live witnesses on hand to demonstrate my hypotheses, let’s see what the internet has to say about the word, “weird.”

Definition for “Weird”

merriam
Merriam-Webster
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Use over time for: weird

Can we go back to spelling the word “weird” with a “y”? I don’t know about you, but I kind of want to explore the Old English origins of this word. How did “destiny” turn into “abnormal” in everyday usage?

From Wordorigins.org:

Until its appearance in the Scottish Play, the adjectival use was restricted to the phrase weird sister. Only after Shakespeare used the term, did its use expand to other contexts.

The modern adjectival sense, meaning strange or uncanny, dates only to the early nineteenth century. Noah Webster’s 1828 dictionary only records it as an adjective, “no longer in use,” meaning skilled in witchcraft. Shelley uses the word several times. From his 1817 The Revolt of Islam, used in the sense of something supernatural:

Some said, I was a fiend from my weird cave, Who had stolen human shape.

Oh, how I love that book…

Next month, let’s look at the word “devolved” because I’ve been hearing it a lot lately.

Are there any weird words you’d like to explore? Let me know and I’ll try to wrangle up a few experts in the field to debunk their origins.

Until next time!

 

Featured image via Alexander Vestin

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