Interesting Etymologies : Easter Special

Updated: Mar 31

"Hello again Word Lovers!" We are in the Easter season and so it seems a sensible time to look at the etymology of the word "Easter"

Easter: The official citation comes from the Venerable Bede, the chronicler who lived on the island of Lindisfarne. It references his work, The Ecclesiastical history of the English people where he complains about the Celtic church retaining the name Easter. This is believed to be the name of the pre Christian era month, from the name of a Pagan Goddess.

At the Synod of Whitby in 664 AD the King of Northumbria declared the Romans to be correct and the only people who disagreed with the timetable were the obstinate Picts and Britons at the remote corners of these far flung islands.

An alternative explanation is the "east" but the first explanation seems more likely.

Easter Egg: The Pagan tradition of handing coloured eggs as a symbol of fertility. The word egg came to English via the Norse.

An old pronunciation of egg was "eya" which is found in the term "cockenayers". In the 14th century this was a "milksop" or a spoilt child but later became a way for country people to refer to people from London. Living in the big city of London had transformed the people into Cockenays, or Cock's Eggs. So disconnected from reality that they did not know which animal laid the egg. This transformed into the word "Cockney" that we still use today. This is a disputed derivation but sounds so delightful that we are going to stick with it.

This is a nice inversion of the more common habit of city folk deriding country folk. The expression "country bumpkin" which probably comes from the Dutch bommekjin to mean little barrel or the diminutive of boom for tree. It was a derogatory term for Dutch people being short and dumpy (Ed: curious as in the modern world Dutch are statistically taller than any other country.) The word came into English as a nautical term for a projected boom from a vessel.

Shrove Tuesday: The start of lent in English (pancake day), comes from scrifan in Old English which means to decree, possibly emanating from the Latin to write. It came to mean "confession".

Maundy Thursday: To decree, ordain, mandate...leads us to another word, Maundy Thursday, from old French commandment or mandate. "I give to you a new commandment" John 13:34 (Mandatum novum do vobis), opens the Easter church service and are understood to be Jesus' final instructions to his followers as he washes their feet at the last supper. "I give to you a new commandment, love one another, as I have loved you".

Holy: Derives from PIE root - "kailo" meaning "whole" or "uninjured". The word Holidays obviously is a well known outcome of "Holy Days".

Explore the full Interesting Etymologies series archive here

As well as being the host of our Interesting Etymologies series, Charly Taylor is a stand up comedian and author. His latest offering is available now:

SkipDeLirio's Worst Ever Gig : A novel by Charly Taylor

Caesar’s army has returned from the long campaign in Gaul and the enemy has been all but defeated. Some of Pompey’s army, however, remains in Africa. Together with straggling Roman rebels and the local king Juba, they are gathering forces to prepare one last attack on what is now Caesar’s Rome. But there is one problem – a descendant of Scipio Africanus is fighting on the side of the Africans. And without a Scipio of their own, the superstitious Romans refuse to go to Africa to fight.

So Caesar sends out soldiers to find himself a Scipio. Luckily, there is a man of such name right there in Rome – a local drunkard and tavern entertainer distantly descended from the legendary warrior. Kidnapped solely on account of his ‘heritage’, the lowly clown is forced to lead out the troops in the battle of Thapsus. There, ‘history’ tells us, Scipio ‘disappears from the historical record’.

Until now.

This is the story of how ‘Nobody’ Skip DeLirio, with the cards finally all dealt in his favour, still managed to fuck it up. History will only take you so far. The rest is make-believe.

Order your copy here

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