v52: påse

Påse (bag) was one of the first words I had to learn. Sweden is keen on recycling, and you have to pay for bags at the supermarket, so:

Vill du ha en påse?
Do you want a bag?

Påse is related to the English purse, but what about the etymology of these two words? It’s a lot more complicated than I would have thought, and the sources I’ve found are not consistent. My impression is that it all goes back to a Proto-Indo-European stem *bus-, which evolved into two families of words.

The b- family are words such as English reimburse, bursar, and Swedish börs (Stock Exchange or purse, according to Norstedts). Some of these are later borrowings from French.

Then we have Grimm’s Law, or the First Germanic Sound Shift, which describes a series of changes in consonant pronounciations as the Germanic languages branched off from the Indo-European family a few thousand years ago. So, for example, b became p, p became f, d became t, and so on. Go have a look at the Wikipedia article for an idea. Thus the PIE b- words evolved into the Germanic p- words, of which påse is an example.

Why is that complicated? Well, Old English seems to have had both b- words and p- words for bags, and it’s difficult to say which lineage purse comes from. The Wiktionary article on purse gives you some idea what I mean.

This is connected to my previous post about getting sick. You may know the following common childhood vaccinations:

MMR: measles, mumps, rubella
MPR: mässling, påssjuka, röda hund

DTP: diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis
DSK: difteri, stelkramp, kikhosta

Mumps is påssjuka in Swedish: “bag sickness”. That’s an easy one because the swollen parotid gland looks like a bag hanging down from the jaw. But what about rubella? Röda hund does literally mean red dog, I found a few theories about why, but nothing convincing. If anyone out there knows, please tell me!

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Published in: on November 26, 2011 at 02:23  Comments (2)  
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