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LRC Blog

September 20, 2010

Jonathan Slocum

Pokorny Etymon: 8 uer-

N.B. The email exchange below may have been edited, e.g. to remove content not essential to the main point(s) or to standardize English spelling/grammar.


On the PIE Etymon and IE Reflexes page for Pokorny Etymon 8. u̯er- 'to notice, observe, attend, be aware', hlāf is listed as one of the [Old English] reflexes. As far as I can tell, this cannot be correct. Anywhere I have looked suggests that hlāf and its ancestors and cognates have no *PIE root determined for them. Should this be corrected? Or am I wrong?

One of my undergraduates (who is writing an etymology paper on the words lord and lady) pointed this out to me, so I would be pedagogically useful to my class to have an answer to this question.

Thanks! M. E.


Dear M. E.,

Thank you for your inquiry. I have spent some time trying to determine why [OE hlāf 'loaf, bread'] and cognates were assigned to Pokorny's etymon "8. u̯er-" and, other than a hazy inconclusive memory, I have found no answer. Accordingly, I have removed these entries from 8. u̯er-... If/when I am able to reconstruct a trail of reasoning and decide that these cognates do belong somewhere, I shall insert them, taking more care to cite the source of evidence. But...

My "misty memory," if you're interested, has something to do with OE hlāford 'lord' < *hlāf-weard lit. 'bread-ward' (implying 'bread-giver'), but even if this memory is correct the assignment of OE hlāf to "8. u̯er-" was not; the mistake may have originated in software clumping everything together in a single pot, but human editing should have caught this.

Thus, OE hlāf etc. would likely assigned to another etymon. As I've found no candidate, no such assignment is imminent.

I do appreciate your pointing out a likely error, and I agree with your conclusion; I apologize for any confusion this may have occasioned in your students.

J. S., LRC