Words of the Day: Bewilder, Bizarre, Blog

My old blog, the Word of the Day, is defunct, and I’m getting ready to take it down. Before I do, though, I’m going to repost some of the best words here over the next few weeks. Enjoy!


beltane2008Bewilder is a compound word, first attested from around 1680, composed of two archaic elements:

Be- is an old prefix; it also appears in bewitch, bespatter, behead, etc. The prefix originally meant “about” (it is related to by), but became (there it is again!) a general purpose prefix that slightly alters the meaning of the word that it’s attached to.

Wilder is also an old word. It’s probably a backformation from wilderness: the element wilder, which originally was an adjective meaning “wild, savage”, was reinterpreted to be a verb meaning “to make wild; lead astray”.

In bewilder, be- is acting as an intesifier: you’re not just being wildered, you’re being bewildered.

In bewilderment, the Latinate suffix –ment changes the verb into a noun indicating the end state.

Wilder starts out with the force of will (”w”), the energy of which is wound up tightly and tensely (short “i”), and fills the space (”l”) of a doorway or decision (”d”), and pumped with power (”r”). The overall impression is that of a will that is energized, but also paralyzed by indecision. The be- prefix indicates a sudden onset with high energy.

Thanks to Ali for suggesting this word of the day!

Bizarre, Bazaar

barackobamareadingThese words are pronounced nearly identically in English, and their meanings may seem related, but they are from completely different sources.

Bazaar’s origin is the less bizarre of the two. In the late 1500’s English got it from Italian bazarra, which itself was borrowed from Persian bazar. Bazar is descended from Middle Persian baha-char, “place of prices”.

Bizarre, meanwhile, is from Basque, a language spoken in southern France and northern Spanish which is unrelated to any other language in Europe. In Basque, bizar means “beard”; and it was borrowed by Spanish as bizarro, meaning “brave”. From there it apparently came into French as bizarre, “handsome, brave, foreign”, and this latter meaning was picked up when English adopted the word in the middle of the 1600’s.

Both words indicate something that makes a sudden, strong, bright, flashy impression. It is interesting that bazaar has the same first syllable as busy and business.


plightofbeeA clipping of weblog, dating from 1998. Weblog itself is attested in 1994, though not in the sense of an online journal.

The sound of the word blog is noisome — it calls to mind bog, frog, hog, dog, fog, grog, blob, blot, and soggy. It gives the impression of something rather… messy. It’s remarkable that something which physically consists only of patterns in electronic memory should be described with a word that suggests so strongly earth, water, and the life that thrives there where they mingle.

Blog begins with a burst of Source-energy that fills all available space. The result is represented by “g” — a sound that means something like a container that is filled with void and yet is the ultimate grounding of everything. Blog and words similar to it — these “messy” words — are, I suspect, words of chaos: the chaos that is also the Source. A bog may be a big mess, but it is also teeming with life and possibility. A blog is quite similar, but note that the addition of the “l”, indicating its liquid, light-like qualities, hinting at its electronic nature and semi-universal availability.

Obviously this neat match between sound and meaning wasn’t devised by the fellow who clipped weblog into blog nine years ago. The way in which the universe contrives to build these “coincidences” never ceases to amaze me.


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