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Doublet (linguistics): Wikis


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In etymology, two or more words in the same language are called doublets or etymological twins (or possibly triplets, etc.) when they have the same etymological root but have entered the language through different routes. Because the relationship between words that have the same root and the same meaning is fairly obvious, the term is mostly used to characterize pairs of words that have diverged in meaning, at times making their shared root a point of irony.

For example English pyre and fire are doublets. Subtle differences in the resulting modern words contribute to the richness of the English language, as indicated by the doublets frail and fragile (which share the Latin root, fragilis): one might refer to a fragile tea cup and a frail old woman, but a frail tea cup and fragile old woman are subtly different and possibly confusing descriptions.

Another example of nearly synonymous doublets is aperture and overture (the commonality behind the meanings is "opening"), but doublets may develop divergent meanings, such as the opposite words, host and guest from the same PIE root, which occur as a doublet in Old French hospes, before having been borrowed into English. Doublets also vary with respect to how far their forms have diverged. For example, the resemblance between levy and levee is obvious, whereas the connection between sovereign and soprano is harder to guess synchronically from the forms of the words alone.

Etymological twins are usually a result of chronologically separate borrowing from a source language. In the case of English, this usually means once from French during the Norman invasion, and again later, after the word had evolved. An example of this is warranty and guarantee. Another possibility is borrowing from both a language and its daughter language (usually Latin and some other Romance language). Words which can be traced back to Indo-European languages, such as the Romance "beef" and the Germanic "cow", in many cases actually do share the same proto-Indo-European root. The forward linguistic path also reflects cultural and historical transactions; often the name of an animal comes from Germanic while the name of its cooked meat comes from Romance. Since English is unusual in that it borrowed heavily from two distinct branches of the same linguistic family tree, it has a relatively high number of this latter type of etymological twin.


Examples in English

Examples in English include:

  • shirt and skirt (both Germanic, the latter from Old Norse)
  • chief and chef (both from French at different times)
  • secure and sure (from Latin, the latter via French)
  • plant and clan (from Latin, the latter via Old Irish)
  • right, rich, raj, regalia, reign, royal and real (from Germanic, Celtic, Sanskrit, Latin, French (twice) and Portuguese cognates, respectively)
  • carton and cartoon, both ultimately the augmentative of Latin carta
  • ward and guard (from Norman, the latter via French); also warden and guardian.
  • chrism and creme (from French, in the 14th and 19th centuries, respectively)
  • cow and beef (from Proto-Indo-European; the former through Germanic — i.e. natively via Old English — the latter through Latin via French)
  • wheel, cycle and chakra (Germanic, Romance and Sanskrit)
  • frenetic and frantic (both from Greek, via Old French and Latin)
  • cave and cavern (from Latin 'cavus', via Fench and Germanic languages respectively)
  • price, prize, praise and pry (all from French, some diverged in English)
  • corn and grain (both ultimately from Proto-Indo-European *grnóm, the first natively via Proto-Germanic (g → k), the latter via Latin, borrowed from Old French)

Norman vs. Modern French

Notice the multiple doublets caused by the w → g sound change in French.

Norman Modern
candle chandelier
car chariot
castle chateau
catch chase
cattle chattels
convey convoy
patch piece
pocket pouch
glamour grammar
reward regard
wallop gallop
ward guard
warden guardian
wardrobe garderobe
warranty guarantee
wile guile
wise guise

Examples in Polish

  • triplets: magister, majster, mistrz—from German Meister, Dutch meester, and from Latin magister; cognate to Italian maestro, English master, mister
  • (o-) pierdolić (fuck, babble, condemn, vulgar language), (o-) pierdzielić (babble, condemn, informal language)—cognate to Russian определять (determine)
  • triplets: szczać (piss, gross wording), sikać (spout, plain, informal wording), siusiać (pee, childish, polite euphemism; however one could argue the latter being simply an irregular diminutive derivation from the former)
  • Bogdan, Bohdan (first names)
  • triplets: upiór , wąpierz, wampir (English vampire; detailed out in Polish Wikipedia entry on etymology of wampir)

See also


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