Saturday, February 12, 2011

The A-Teem


Katy from Suttons Bay writes, “I heard a CNN reporter say that the streets of Cairo were teaming with thousands of demonstrators, and I wondered what he meant.”

We’re not talking about a well-coordinated athletic event here. The verb that the reporter used is spelled teeming, and it means to swarm. The interesting thing is that there are three verbs spelled t-e-e-m, and they are not connected.

Teem1 came from an Old English word that meant to bear children. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, this is how it expanded.

  • To bring forth, produce, give birth to, bear (offspring).
  • To bring forth young, bear or produce offspring; to be or become pregnant.
  • To be full, as if ready to give birth; to be prolific or fertile; to abound, swarm.
  • In Anglo-Saxon law: To refer or trace (property), for evidence of ownership, to a third person representing the party from whom it was acquired; to vouch to warranty.
  • To refer or appeal to for confirmation or testimony: to God I teme, I call God to witness.
  • To attach oneself (to any one) in fealty, dependence, trust, or love; to turn or draw to.
  • To acclaim (as lord); to offer or dedicate (to God); to bring into a position or condition.
  • To betake oneself, to repair, go, proceed to.
  • To lead to (an issue).

Teem2 came from an Old Scandinavian word that meant empty, and it progressed this way.

  • To empty (a vessel, etc.); to discharge or remove the contents of; to empty (a wagon, etc.).
  • To discharge (something out of or from a vessel, a cart, etc.); to empty out, pour out.
  • To drain the water off (boiled potatoes, etc.).
  • Of water, etc.: To pour, flow in a stream, flow copiously; of rain: to pour.

Teem3 owed its existence to an Old Saxon word, beteem, that meant to think fit.

  • To think fit or proper; to vouchsafe, grant, consent.
  • To vouchsafe, accord, grant, concede.
  • To allow, permit (to do something).
  • To think (a person) worthy, to admit the worth of.

SIDEBAR: Teem – Swear Down


Available from McFarland & Co.: Word Parts Dictionary, 2nd edition


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