Recently, some correspondence with a couple of different teachers has focused my attention on interesting sets of etymological relatives. For a while now, my pal Peg and I have been collecting pairs of word relatives in which one form ends with /k/ and the other with /ʧ/:
make~match wake~watch (also related to wait)
break~breach seek~search (also sought),
buck~butcher cluck~clutch (as in a clutch of hens)
speak~speech hike~hitch (making hitchhike a pleonasm, perhaps)
snack~snatch cake~cook~kitchen bake~batch
Food for thought, right?
Now, in my last post, I wrote about relatives like bear~bore, year~yore, and earth~ore, and that last one got me thinking about the nominal <-th> suffix that’s at the end of earth. That <-th> carries a sense of ‘action, condition, or process,’ which can be seen pretty obviously in the following words, because they have free base elements:
Other ‘actions, conditions, or processes’ have bound variants of their base elements, but still are pretty obviously connected:
bear~birth (Also its homophone, berth – from a difference sense of bear.)
moon~month (which I wrote about here)
broad~breadth (This connection helps explain the wisdom of the <oa> spelling for /ɑ/ in <broad>.)
wide~width (Actually, this word, like ninth, drops its <e> before the <th> so it’s not misparsed as having an <-eth> suffix: *<wideth> looks like a 2-syllable word.)
true~truth and rue~ruth(less) (These are like <width>, and I also have other thoughts about the <e> in these bases, but that’s a story for another time — also, (be)troth is a close relative to truth.)
Still others have bound bases with cognates most folks aren’t aware of, and some of them are breathtaking. The ore~earth connection isn’t alone in yielding real gems. Consider these:
be~booth (Mind-blowing, isn’t it? The job of a booth is to be somewhere.)
can~could~(un)couth (The word could was formerly spelled <coud>, in which we can still see a <cou> base; the <l> was inserted by analogy to <would> and <should>.)
A couple these nouns have more distant <th>-less relatives: faith~fidelity~defy and sooth~is.
And finally, there are several nouns with a final <th> that can no longer be analyzed as a suffix at all, and there aren’t even any present-day <th>-less relatives, but if we look at the history, it’s pretty clear that <-th> was historically a suffix at some point:
breath [Edit: after posting, I discovered that breeze is a relative, and more distantly, fervor and effervescent.]
smith [Edit: after posting, I discovered that smite and smote are cognate to smith!]
What’s also interesting is that bath is a distant relative of both bake and batch: a batch is something baked, and both bath and bake carry denotative echoes of ‘warming.’ Huh. Whaddaya know? This <-th> thing is really pretty eye-opening. My interest in it really started a couple years ago, when a family member accidentally broke something kind of precious to me, and by way of apology, he said, “Oh, that was dear,” by which he meant ‘rare, hard to come by.’ I figured out from his comment the connection between dear and dearth — a lack, something in rare supply — and I’ve revisited it several times with new discoveries.
I guess you never know what a relative might teach you.