Wednesday, December 06, 2006

The Daily Hump: Yard

The yard. It's a good word to hump. Say it with me. Yaaaaard. Repeat it a few times. Yard yard yard. But where is the yard from? And does my backyard have anything to do with a yardstick or the seminal 60's rock band The Yardbirds (launch pad for Clapton, Beck and Page--and the answer is no).

Let's start with the yard in the sense of a unit of measurement. Per Wikipedia:
The yard derives its name from the word for a straight branch or rod, although the precise origin of the measure is not definitely known. Some believe it derived from the double cubit, or that it originated from cubic measure, others from its near equivalents, like the length of a stride or pace. One postulate was that the yard was derived from the girth of a person's waist, while another claim held that the measure was invented by Henry I of England as being the distance between the tip of his nose and the end of his thumb. These are believed to be more likely standardising events than inventing of the measure.
Yard can likely be humped all the way back to the Proto-Indo-European root *gherdh- meaning staff or pole. In Old English the yard measured about 5 meters, a length later called a rod (rather unoriginal given the Wikipedia etymology). The yard as we know it was first attested to from 1377. And for you loyal WordHumper readers yard is likely related to the Old Teutonic *gazdaz, which gave us the Old Norse word gad. You may remember gad from our gallivant hump. It's related to our the root of our modern verb gather.

Now, how does this all connect to my backyard? Funny thing--there is no connection. It seems to be purely coincidental that one can measure their backyard with a yardstick. Let's look at the Old English roots:

Yard (in the backyard sense) --> Old English geard
Yard (in the measuring sense) --> Old English gerd

In the backyard sense yard comes from the same Germanic root that gave us garden, orchard and the people-inhabitated portion of the world in Norse mythology, Midgard. Yard also shares a Germanic root with the verb gird, meaning to surround or encircle the waist (think girdle and girth*). It's this concept of surrounding and enclosure which really captures the sense of yard's Proto-Indo-European root ghort-, which also gave us cohort, court and the Latin word for "garden" hortus, which of couse gave us horticulture (orchard actually comes from hortus + yard).

*The Wikipedia entry gives a possible etymology for yard (in the measuring sense) as "derived from the girth of a person's waist". Given that the root for girth is connected to yard in the enclosure sense, this theory may be assuming an etymological relationship between the two senses of yard which we have shown does not exist.

Yard [AHD]
Yard [Online Etymology Dictionary]
Yard [OED]

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:: posted by David, 8:17 AM


You made my head blow up.
Blogger Rachel, at 12:51 PM  

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