Wars and Warlocks

May 4, 2015

STAR WARS and boerewors have more than just ET in common, either in the sense of science fiction or bellicose Afrikanerdom.

 

Strange as it may seem, the words was and wors are derived from the same source – the Old High German or Frankish ‘werra’ meaning confusion, discord, or strife.

 

The sense of confusion or ‘mixing up’ is evident in sausage making (the German ‘wurst’ is from the same root), while the strife meaning gives us the familiar English ‘war’ and ‘worse’.

 

Despite their warrior cultures, the early Germanic tribes had no native synonym for what we call war. Although Old North French speakers could draw on war words derived from the Latin ‘bellum’, they avoided them because of the similarity to ‘bello’ (beautiful).

 

The closest available word for adoption was the Frankish ‘werra’ which became ‘werre’ in Old North French. In time, it grew into the modern French ‘guerre’, the Spanish, Italian, and Portuguese ‘guerra’ and their derivative ‘guerrilla.’ Strangely enough, one of the Old English words for war was ‘orlege’, instantly recognisable as the Afrikaans ‘oorlog.’

 

Although the word did not survive in English, it counterpart ‘gewinn’ (a struggle or battle) is still with us in modern forms such as ‘win’ and ‘winner.’

 

The acceptance of ‘war’ into English is attributable to the language’s habit of borrowing from other tongues at the expense of native words. English had already adopted the North French ‘werre’ by the Anglo Saxon period, and the usage was reinforced by the Norman Conquest a century later.

The other Germanic languages meantime went their own way and developed ‘war’ words independently. The Germans have ‘Krieg’, borrowed by the Swedes and Danes as ‘krig.’ Dutch and Afrikaans share ‘oorlog’, while Icelanders have splendid ‘ofrithur’ – literally ‘unpeace.’

 

A warlock, on the other hand, may sound warlike but has no linguistic connection with war. His first syllable derives from the Old English ‘wer’ meaning covenant, faith, or true. The latter sense is echoed in the Afrikaans ‘waar’ and ‘ware’, and is related to the Latin ‘verax’ (truthful) root of English verify and veracity. 

 

The second syllable is from the Old English ‘leogan’ – to lie. A warlock, therefore, was literally a ‘faith liar’ or ‘truth breaker.’ ‘Waerloga’ was thus the name applied to Satan as a traitor and deceiver.

Being in league with the devil was held to be the prerequisite for occult powers, giving rise to the modern sense of ‘warlock’ as a sourcerer or male witch. Don’t confuse him with a sausage, even if (linguistically speaking), Boer War and boerewors are the same thing under the skin.

 

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