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etymology |,etə’mäləjē|

November 24th, 2014

Stop-Arret-blogStop! – just think. Where does that word come from? If you’ve ever driven in France you’ll know not to jump in with an answer because on French road signs it doesn’t say ‘Arretez-Vous’ or ‘Cesser,’ it says ‘Stop,’ just like on ours. ‘Stopper’ is a verb in French dictionaries, and you know how fussy those Galls can be. They even have a government institution keeping tabs on their language – the Académie Française, which is almost as intimidating as the British W.I.*

Is ‘stopper’ our word, then? Or theirs? Well, the verb ‘stop’ is derived from the Old English ‘forstoppian,’ itself very similar to terms in Old German and Dutch, which makes it an Anglo-Saxon term, definitely not Latin. So how did it get in to French? Did they just take a shine to it? Peut-étre. ‘Stopper’ began appearing in French dictionaries in the 1930s and was originally cited as a word of English origin. As to driving – the red STOP sign was made an international road symbol by the 1949 Genevieve convention, which means it’s all over the place, not just in France.

So, there we are – very interesting. And how do I know all that stuff? Have I suddenly become an Oxford English academic, or a BBC culture correspondent? No – I dug up a few things on the internet, mainly from the excellent ‘Grammarphobia’ – one of the best places on the web for anyone who loves words.

Grammarphobia is a blog hosted by Patricia T. O’Conner and Stewart Kellerman who, between them, have over fifty years experience as writers and editors. Pat worked for the Wall Street Journal before moving to the New York Times, while Stewart was a journalist with United Press International covering major stories all over the world before he too moved to the New York Times. A prolific pair, they post ten to thirty articles a month, and with an archive going back to 2006, that makes a whole load of reading. Each article addresses one aspect or another of English language usage – vocabulary, spelling, etymology, punctuation … etc, and as the blog is blessed with a ‘search’ facility, if there’s anything you particularly want to check on, it’s easy to find.

But you don’t need a specific question in mind to visit. In fact, if you’re struggling to meet any kind of deadline I’d say don’t go there – it’s too much of a distraction. Every once in a while though, take a look. As writers we work in many different areas, but one way or another we’re all telling stories, and the stories of the language we use are some of the best ones around.

Keep on writing!

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* Women’s Institute

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