Monday 9 October 2023

The Gift of Thrift


Start with something simple. We've got the verb give, which we all know, and the thing that you give is a gift. They're quite obviously related. This is Not Interesting.

Then you've got people who use the word gift as a verb, as in "I gifted it to him." That's a bit odd because it's verb to noun to verb again. But it's still pretty obvious.

Then you have the verb drive. And when the wind drives the snow into a pile that is a snowdrift, because the thing you drive is a drift. And when the wind and the waves drive a ship from its course, that movement is called the drift.

And then the noun drift can get turned into a verb and the boat starts drifting. It is the gift that keeps gifting.

And then you've got the verb thrive, meaning to prosper, flourish and generally quomodocunquize. And from that you get the noun thrift, but only because thrift used to mean wealth. Then its meaning wandered until it meant savings, and then the foolish habit of saving money, which is thrifty.

(I should point out that I always save all my money for a rainy day, but I live in England, so my savings don't last long.)

But that's why we still have spendthrift meaning someone who spends all their fortune.

And then you have sieve and sift, which has also been re-verbed to mean exactly the same thing. And just as gift relates to given and drift to driven, so rift relates to riven (although the connection there is much further back in the Norse). And even swift is related to swivel. The verb in between was swive/swifan which just meant to move. But then it became the standard medieval term for to have sex with, as in:

'For John,' said he, 'als ever moot I thrive, 

If that I may, yon wenche will I swive.

Swive was a bit rude, even then, and has since vanished, but swift and swivel remain. 

It's a bit like how true relates to truth, just as rue relates to ruth. Ruth is the opposite of ruthless. But we don't use ruth anymore, largely because Milton used it in the line:

Look homeward angel now, and melt with ruth

And that's so beautiful that nobody will ever better it; even though, to modern ears, it sounds like an invitation from a woman with a raclette*. 

That's it. That's what I was driving at, if you catch my drift.

A bit rude

*Ruth's cooking is very interesting, partially because she uses alien corn.