Etymology Corner- Square

You rested in the Etymology Corner. But you’re still hungry….

Let’s talk about Square! I’m also a huge fan of this company, and fortunately their name is also a common word with a fascinating history.

You know squares. They’re those round rectangles? You know, four sides. Square comes to English through Old French “esquire” (unrelated to the modern English word, actually) from Vulgar Latin “*exquadrare”. “Ex-” and “quad” was basically making something out of a square, which just demonstrates how we noun verbs sometimes.

The ultimate root of “quad” is Proto-Indo-European “*kwetwer” or possible “*qwetwor” cuz hey spelling old backformed words that existed outside of the alphabet is pretty much impossible. *Kwetwer became quad from the first part in Latin and “tessares” in Greek from the second part, which folds all sorts of words into this lil cognate family. Some of my favorites are quarantine, from a period of forty days during which a widow can still live in her dead husband’s house and trapeze, which literally just means four-footed. There are hundreds or words with quad- or quar- or tess- or tetra- in them, all of which are related to that fourness.

*kwetwer also became “four”, although the way that the Germanic family picked up that F is pretty much unknown. It’s not Grimm’s Law. One scholar says it might be the influence of five, but who knows? Whatever it is, we’ve got four.

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