Jewish World Review Oct. 13 2003 / 17ishrei, 5764
Editors of Merriam-Webster's Collegiate
"Grey'' in "greyhound'' has nothing to do with the color?; "at loggerheads''
I am told that the "grey'' in "greyhound'' has nothing to do with the color, but I need more convincing. If it doesn't stand for the color, what does it mean?
Dear P. D.:
We may not be able to be as convincing as we'd like. Although we know that "grey'' doesn't stand for the color, we can't be altogether certain just what it does stand for. The closest we can come is that it's related to the Old Norse word for "a female dog,'' which happened to be "grey.''
However, the "grey'' in "greyhound'' doesn't come directly from Old Norse "grey.'' Originally, in Old English, the word was not "greyhound'' but "grighund'' - so it is the word "grig'' that must be traced. Unfortunately, its ultimate origins are not known.
The most that can be said is that the original "grig'' had some connection with a word for a kind of dog. Note that "hound'' from Old English "hund'' does, indeed, mean "dog.''
Needless to say, over the years a number of variant etymologies have been advanced for "greyhound.'' Based on the assertion that early greyhounds were always grey, probably the most common misplaced theory is that the word must be for the color. But that explanation ignores the word's original form, "grig,'' which is not identical to any early forms of "grey'' or "gray,'' the word for the color. Another unfounded hypothesis is that "grey'' is from Latin "gradus,'' meaning "degree,'' supposedly reflecting the high esteem in which greyhounds were held.
The story has further complications. Beginning in the 14th century the dog's name was sometimes contracted to "greund'' or "grewnd.'' This may have led to its erroneous association with "grew,'' an Old and Middle English word meaning "Greek'' (the word was derived from Latin "Graecum'' via French "griu''), and the spelling "grewhound.''
Only the Scots continued to spell it that way into the 19th century (they even had a verb, "grew,'' which meant "to go coursing with greyhounds''), but the notion that greyhounds were originally "Greek'' hounds - the connection being that the dog was popular with the Ancient Greeks - persisted elsewhere at least until the 17th century. By then, "greyhound'' was pretty much established as the conventional spelling.
There's one last theory to refute: the "grey'' in "greyhound'' does not stand for "badger,'' even though it just so happens that "gray'' is a word for "badger.'' The true "badger hound'' is the dachshund, since "Dachs'' means "badger'' in German, and "Hund,'' of course, is German for "hound.''
When two people are involved in an argument we often say they are "at loggerheads.'' Why is this?
Dear N. G.:
The origin of the phrase "at loggerheads'' is somewhat obscure. We do know that expressive use of the word "loggerhead'' in phrases referring to quarrelsome disagreement dates back at least three hundred years. The first example of this use recorded in the Oxford English Dictionary (a 20-volume historical dictionary of the English language) comes from a late 17th-century work by British writer Francis Kirkman:
"They frequently quarrell'd about their Sicilian wenches, and indeed … they seem … to be worth going to Logger-heads for.'' But how did the expression come about to begin with? Nobody knows for sure.
The word "loggerhead'' itself goes back to Shakespeare's time and in fact was first penned by the Bard himself in the late 16th century with the meaning "blockhead'': "Ah, you whoreson loggerhead, you were born to do me shame.'' (Love's Labor's Lost, IV.iii.119-200). Shakespeare's use here reflects the word's probable development from an English dialect sense of the word "logger,'' meaning "a block of wood,'' plus "head.''
The word "loggerhead'' was later used 1) with the meaning "a large head,'' 2) as the name of a kind of turtle, and 3) for an iron tool (with a long handle and a ball or bulb on the end) used to melt tar or heat liquid. Unfortunately, none of these meanings suggests an obvious link to the expression "at loggerheads.''
The theory of origin most commonly advanced is that the phrase evolved from a use of the tool mentioned in number 3 above, or some similar instrument, as a weapon in disputes. It has been suggested, for example, that sailors may have used loggerheads in naval battles to throw tar at the enemy's ship, or, alternatively, that folks got into scuffles with the loggerheads they used to heat "flip'' (a beverage of sweetened spice liquor and beaten eggs) after they had had too much to drink.
But regrettably, all this is just speculation; we will probably never learn the true history of this intriguing expression.
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