Saturday, November 14, 2009

Carry On

I was a bit surprised to see that the Oxford English Dictionary has doubts about the usual etymology for the word belligerent. My fading memory told me that it came from the Latin word for war (bellum) and from the Latin verb gerere, to wage or carry on. Chambers Dictionary of Etymology and Partridge’s A Short Etymological Dictionary of Modern English concur, but the OED says that it was formed on the model of magnificent.

Starting in the 16th century, a gerent was one who held an office, a manager or a ruler. The core definitely was the verb gerere, to manage.

Frenigerent, a word long obsolete, meant bridle-bearing. It referred to a rider, who was expected to control his or her steed.

Hederigerent was a relative latecomer, first showing up in the 19th century. It meant bearing or wearing ivy. Mortimer Collins uses it amusingly in his Thoughts in my Garden: “Nymphs, hederigerant, wine that's refrigerant, These are the joy of the poets and gods.”

The obsolete word malegerent showed up in Bailey’s Universal Etymological English Dictionary. It meant given to bad or imprudent behavior or management; improvident.

Omnigerent is another word that had a short shelf life. It meant doing all kinds of work, sort of a jack-of-all-trades.

A vicegerent was a person appointed by a king or other ruler to act in his place or to exercise certain of his administrative functions. We tend to use vice-regent, but that may have been an early misspelling of vicegerent.

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