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?"
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.
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