Every Wednesday, I explore the linguistic origins of one word in different languages I speak.
“Brother” may become verboten along with some other words on this blog because it’s been popping up too often recently in really annoying ways, like how my post about THE GOONIES reminded me that I hadn’t yet covered it as a Word Mystery. My feelings about it are currently like my general rabies sensation except angry. I’m hoping that by exposing it, it’ll go away.
EN → brother — a man or boy in relation to other sons and daughters of his parents. ORIGIN Old English brōthor, of Germanic origin; related to Dutch broeder and German Bruder.
ES → hermano — Persona que con respecto a otra tiene el mismo padre y la misma madre, o solamente el mismo padre o la misma madre. [Person who, with respect to another, has the same father and mother, or only the same father or mother.] ORIGIN Latin germānus [genetic “blood” brother].
FR → frère — Garçon né du même père, de la même mère, ou des deux mêmes parents que la personne considérée. [Boy born to the same father, same mother, or who shares the same parents as another.] ORIGIN Classic Latin frater [brother].
Thoughts on today’s Mystery
Only the French definition concedes both that people not related by blood could be brothers (adopted, foster, etc.) and that parents could be either a mother or a father or possibly a different combination of genders.
Today’s winner is English just so the damn word will leave me alone! Now, git!
Something more interesting?
When I first started teaching ESL, the sentence “How many brothers and sisters have you got?” bothered me a lot. I don’t think I’ve ever posed that question in that way. It’s way too long for starters and totally unnecessary when English has a perfectly good word — sibling — that encompasses both genders (and saves time). That Romance languages insist on making all groups of mixed gender things male pisses me off since it’s misleading and generally uncool to marginalize just over half of the world’s population.
The seed of the plant is one of my favorite things, but the comic Peanuts is super sad. Like anyone who was a kid and used to read it, I thought it was a fun and touching strip about a boy and his dog, but when I read Schulz and Peanuts: A Biography by David Michaelis a few years ago, it made me reconsider everything I’d thought about it. Charles Schulz was a deeply unhappy person and the story of his life will either make you feel better about yourself (you can’t be as miserable as he was) or worse (all his success still didn’t bring him happiness).
At least he gave us Snoopy dancing.