The Intractable Autodidact

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One of my Favorite Creepy Words — and Why

As a young linguist (I love saying that, though it sounds way pompous), I most loved the little tidbits of linguistic lore some of my favorite professors would bestow on us, like pearls of wisdom. It seemed that way at the time anyway. One I fondly recall was told to the class by Professor Hall, an old guy with a white beard, tattoos, and a cane carved with a dragon head. He dug historical linguistics, as do I, and said the word bishopric (the diocese under a bishop) was the only word in modern English that still used the suffix -ric. It means, more or less, kingdom, and is cognate with German reich, (kingdom) but without reich‘s unfortunate connotations. You can certainly see the relation — both are realms within a specific cordon, and they sound similar.

An Eldritch Woods

Ah but I stumbled on ONE MORE example of -ric in current usage, albeit rare. I regret I don’t recall where I first read it, but eldritch was a word I had to memorize. It means eerie, spooky, or uncanny. The -ritch of eldritch means kingdom, and is derived from Old English rīce, i.e. kingdom. It’s the same as the -ric in bishopric. The el of eldritch expresses odd or strange, thus, historically, eldritch means something like strange place/realm, but its current meaning is just plain spooky.

Note: Some etymologies claim the word’s origin is more like elf-rīce meaning something like realm of the elf. Undoubtedly, that’s an even cooler derivation.

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6 comments on “One of my Favorite Creepy Words — and Why

  1. Fork in My Eye
    August 22, 2012

    It’s been a while since I read your bio so I completely forgot that you studied linguistics. How cool! My dad and I enjoy swapping linguistic oddities or fun etymologies. Eldritch is a delightfully spooky word, even more so now that I know a bit of its history.

    • kentiki
      August 22, 2012

      Thank you! Keep swapping stories with your dad. I have a little girl, and we dads love hearing from you, especially when we think we are teaching you something;)

  2. Monique
    August 22, 2012

    I’m so happy to have a buddy who is a linguist! LOL. You are too cool, Ken!

    • kentiki
      August 22, 2012

      Thank you, Mo! That is nice to hear. I am going to remind my family that I am cool!!! HAAHAA

  3. Barbara Backer-Gray
    October 7, 2012

    I like your blog. And thanks for following mine. I first saw the word eldritch in a book by Dean Koontz. He uses it every now and then. I don’t know if you know him; he’s a thriller/horror writer, but very good. He’s second to Steven King of that genre that I’ve read so far. Anyway, one of the many things I like about his writing is his use of lesser known words (lesser known by me anyway), so I always learn something.

    • kentiki
      October 7, 2012

      I agree, to me, reading isn’t just entertainment, but I personally like to learn something.

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This entry was posted on August 21, 2012 by in gnome, language, linguistics and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , .

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