February 6, 2013 Word Mystery: eight / huit / ocho
Word mysteries are where words in languages that I know don’t correspond to each other at all despite those languages often sharing lexical histories. These words are both mystifying (why are they different?) and annoying (why must you be different?!).
The longer I’m away from 24h 360° exposure to English, the harder it becomes to do simple things. Like spell the number 8 correctly. Because it’s a crazy looking word and when you throw in its ordinal variation “eighth” it becomes almost impossible. How can that combination of letters be correct? There are four consecutive consonants that don’t make any sense together and yet, that’s the way it’s done. I decided to get on the case and see what could be learned. So, here’s the story on eight, including the hilarious definitions.
EN eight — equivalent to the product of two and four; one more than seven, or two less than ten. Old English eahta, from Proto-Germanic ahtōu. [In German, it's now acht.]
ES ocho [oh-cho]– Siete y uno. Del lat. ŏcto. [Seven plus one. From the Latin octo.]
FR huit [weet] — Un ensemble composé de sept X plus un X (= 8). Du latin ŏcto. Le h, non étymologique, est un ajout des clercs du Moyen Âge, alors que v et u s’écrivent de manière similaire, afin d’éviter la lecture vit. [A combination of seven X plus one X = 8. From the Latin ŏcto. The "h," not etymological, was an addition by clerks of the Middle Ages to prevent the reading of vit (a verb form of vivre: to live and voir: to see) as "v" and "u" were written similarly.]
That last bit is très cool, non? On a final note, I’ll mention that in Catalan it’s also huit, but pronounced [vweet] qualifying it for word enemy status.
And since few people love a dumb joke more than I do, here’s this one.
Q: Why is 6 afraid of 7?
A: Because seven ate nine. [Seven eight nine.]
Till next week when I’ll look at another… Word Mystery.