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Pilcrow the Backward ([personal profile] pilcrow) wrote in [community profile] linguaphiles2009-05-16 10:15 am

Etymology references for kids?

(crossposted from the LiveJournal community)

My nephew, who turns seven next month and is more than a bit clever (he could flawlessly narrate the story of Beowulf aged five and a half -- I hasten to add that he had read a graphic-novel version, not the original Anglo-Saxon), has become interested in the etymologies of common American English words and phrases -- e.g. "thank you." He reads fluently, but not well enough to decipher the etymologies in the online OED. If anyone could point me to resources for a kid who can read chapter books independently, but isn't quite up to Swann's Way, I'd be grateful.
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[personal profile] x2 2009-05-16 05:28 pm (UTC)(link)
Hmm, what the OED seems to have doesn't seem as much etymology as historical usages. This is what they give for the word of the day (stock):

c1622 FLETCHER Prophetess V. iii, He has bought the great Farm..And stock'd it like an Emperour. 1648 Hunting of Fox 41 Your Cattell that should stocke your grounds. 1670 COVEL in Early Voy. Levant (Hakl. Soc.) 120 There were several sorts of fruit brought to us..with which we stock't ourselves. 1683 [R. NORTH] Discourse Fish & Fish-ponds xiii. (1713) 48 The Fish wherewith you stock the Waters. 1707 FREIND Peterborow's Cond. Spain 164 Your Lordship knows how well stock'd with Mony you left us. 1727 DE FOE Eng. Tradesm. (1732) I. vi. 61 Some Tradesmen are fond of seeing their shops well stock'd, and their warehouses full of goods. 1776 GIBBON Decl. & F. xiv. (1782) I. 504 The country was plentifully stocked with provisions. 1812 CRABBE Tales xxi. 180 Here, take my purse..('Tis fairly stock'd). 1832 H. MARTINEAU Hill & Valley iv. 64 Some laid out their earnings in stocking a little shop. 1857 LIVINGSTONE Trav. iv. 85 Many of his cattle burst away from him... He stocked himself again among the Batleti. 1857 TROLLOPE Barchester T. xxxix, Instead of putting his money by to stock farms for his sons. 1899 LADY M. VERNEY Verney Mem. IV. 29 The cellar was stocked with Rhenish Wine.

Of course it's hard to understand but it's not the OED's fault that the quotes are old. :)

On the other hand, Dictionary.com (which is Miriam-Webster I think?) has more of a real etymology. Here's the same word:

bef. 900; (n.) ME; OE stoc(c) stump, stake, post, log; c. G Stock, ON stokkr tree-trunk; (v.) deriv. of the n.

These are pretty straightforward; once you get used to the language acronyms (ME = Middle English, OE = Old English, G = German, ON = Old Norse) there's really not much to not understand.
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[personal profile] hades 2009-05-16 06:19 pm (UTC)(link)
There's the Online Etymology Dictionary, which also has a list explaining what all the abbreviations used mean, so it's fairly easy to read.

There's also Weird Wide Words, which isn't really about common words, but explains the meaning and etymology in a way that's easier to understand (and in a more personable manner) than a normal dictionary.