Sunday, January 27, 2013

Aftermath



Jeannie wrote, “Every time there’s a mass shooting, the talking heads are certain to use the words in the aftermath. I’m confused about the math part. Could they be referring to the number of people killed?"

Interesting question. This is a case where modern spelling hides the real origin. The original spelling was aftermowth. If you catch the word mow in there, you’re close to the answer.

Old English took the mowth/math forms from similar Old Frisian and Old Saxon words. The reference was to an area of a field that had recently been mowed. The new growth was the aftermath — what came up after mowing.

By the 17th century, the word took on a figurative meaning: a period of time following a significant destructive event.

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

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