Deepest etymon list

A late colleague of mine suggested that some day, “rice” might be similarly reanalyzed as a plural of “rie”. This suggestion was repeated in a book by Steven Pinker (who admitted to me that he had gotten it from my late colleague in a course called Mathematical Linguistics).

Hm, that seems an unlikely change to me. English words ending in a vowel sound are pluralized by adding a Z sound, not an S. So “ryes”, the plural of “rye”, is pronounced like “rise”, not “rice”. I don’t think there are any exceptions to this rule. “Rows”, “bays”, “lies”, “foes”, “boos”, etc. all have a Z sound at the end.

The same is true when the word ends with a voiced consonant. Someone (it may actually have been Pinker) wrote that this indicates that the default rule for making English plurals is to add a Z. It’s only changed to an S when the word ends with an unvoiced consonant, where it would be difficult to follow it with a voiced sibilant, so we unvoice the sibilant. (The spelling of course is irrelevant to this argument.)


This gets into the splitter/lumper debate, but I won’t call Latin canis and PIE *kwon- (or English hound) different words. I’d call them different points on an evolutionary branch of the same word.

And if we do call synonym cognates different words, then the number of etymons is limited only by how finely we slice languages with time.

Laurasia (an ancient supercontinent) is named for Asia and Laurentia.
Laurentia is named for the Laurentian Shield.
The Laurentian Shield is named for the Laurentian Mountains.
The Laurentian Mountains are named (I believe) for the St. Lawrence River (Fleuve St. Laurent in French).
The St. Lawrence River is named for the Gulf of St. Lawrence.
The Gulf of St. Lawrence is named for the Feast of St. Lawrence, the day in 1535 it was discovered by Cartier
The Feast of St. Lawrence is named for St. Lawrence of Rome
The personal name Lawrence (Laurentius in Latin) derives from the city of Laurentum in Italy
Laurentum was named for its bay or laurel trees (laurus in Latin)

Excellent, bibliophage. Looks like you’ve beaten my best by two. Anyone else have a better one?

Treaty of Washington - NATO founding document
Washington, D.C. - place
George Washington
William de Wassyngtona - George’s 16-gt grandfather
Wassingatun, Tyre - place
Wassa - person whose people founded Wassingatun village
Wadhsige - source of personal name (victorious in hunt?)
waþ - hunt (Old English)
waithanjan - to hunt (proto-Germanic)
waithjo - pursuit
wadh - to go (PIE)

Good one, Septimus. Except I’m going to have to exclude William de Wassyngtona. It’s the same thing as rejecting 18 Louis’s of France. Only one person in a line of inheritance.

BTW, what’s with the “Tyre” on the placename?

It’s a misprint for “Tyne”. Washington, the town, is in the local government district of Tyne and Wear (which was formed in 1974 out of parts of the counties Northumberland and Durham).

Thanks, UDS.

After thinking about it, I realized it could be extended a bit. Instead of Washington DC and the Treaty, you could have the first items on the list be

Washington State Cougars (athletic teams of)
Washington State University
Washington (state)

and there’s lots of variations you can do on those. Different things named after the school or different schools named for the state (although, really why would you want some inferior school like the University of Washington?)

OK, read up on it a bit. Why do I keep wanting to change that name to “wine and tear”?

Well the history of counties names is long and sordid. Of course they had (complicated) church parishes and they rationalise and subdivide them up in modern times. But before parishes it was customary to use rivers to say where it is…

Its on the river Wear, near the more famous river Tyne … In fact its near the famous Newcastle-On-Tyne. The 'ton ending might be a corruption of Tyne ??? But I looked it up and no one is certain why its called Washington. It might be the owner was OCD about cleanliness. Its in an area which is liable to have multiple languages involved …

I thought that the -ton ending just meant “town”.