Tuesday, January 02, 2007

The Daily Hump: Smitten

Ah, to be smitten; that time in one's life when your attention is romantically focused upon a single person. But do people realize that smitten is simply the past participle of smite? You know, smite, as in God's favorite pastime in the Hebrew Bible: God smote the Egyptians, God smites the Midianites, God hearts smiting Philistines. Yes, smitten comes from a not-so-nice word at all, as smite literally means to be beaten or struck.

Smite comes to us via Old English, Proto-Germanic and quite possibly the Proto-Indo-European base *(s)mei-, meaning (somewhat disturbingly) "to smear or rub". In the Germanic languages the early sense of smite seems to be focused on throwing. As the Online Etymology Dictionary notes, the Biblical sense of the word, as in "to slay", doesn't start showing up until around 1200 CE. Smitten, in the sense of love, is a relatively recent concoction, making its linguistic debut in 1663: "Lord Chesterfield..is..put away from Court upon the score of his lady's having smitten the Duke of Yorke" (from the Diary of Samuel Pepys, as written Jan 1, 1663--happy 344th birthday, Smitten; my apologies for being a day late but it was New Year's Day and I was hungover. You understand.)

So next time you beat, strike, throw, smear or rub your lover just remember this is all part of being smitten and, by definition, is expected.

smite [OED]

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:: posted by David, 8:20 AM


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