Monday, January 11, 2016
Etymology Of The Word MURDER By Thomas De Quincey 1888
Etymology Of The Word MURDER By Thomas De Quincey 1888
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De Quincey is here characteristically correct. The word Murder (though the same at ultimate root with the Latin mori, "to die," and mors-mortis, "death," and so with the Sanskrit mri, "to die,") did come into the Christian Latinity of the Middle Ages, and so into the Romance tongues of Europe, by importation from the Gothic. "Wasuh than sa haitana Barabbas, mith thaim mith imma drobyandam gabundans, thaiei in auhyodau maurthr gatawidedun": so runs the verse, Mark xv. 7, in the Moeso-Gothic of Ulphilas; and, though it is a bit of the speech of the Goths of the Danube as old as 360 A.D., when the Roman Empire was not yet broken up, we can recognise its kinship with our own English in the same passage, "And there was one named Barabbas, which lay bound with them that had made insurrection with him, who had committed murder in the insurrection." I do not suppose that an older example can be produced of the Gothic noun maurthr (murther, murder), the corresponding verb of which was maurthrjan (to murder); and I do not find it referred to in the article on the word Murder in even the latest edition of Du Cange's great Dictionary of Mediaeval Latin. The essentially Gothic origin of the word is there recognised, however, in the general statement that it is from the "Saxon" morth, meaning death or slaughter (ex Saxonico morth); and, in five columns of copious learning, it is shown how the Mediaeval Latinists appropriated this morth or moroth,— at first bedding it in that uncouth form in their own Latin texts, but at length boldly Latinising it into murdrum or murtrum, and so providing themselves with a train of requisite cognates, in multricium, murdificatio, murdredum, murdrare, murdrire, murdrator, murdritor, etc. etc. One of the most interesting quotations is from the Laws of Henry I. of England (1100-1135); where we are informed, "Of old a man was said to be murdered (murdritus) if his slayer was unknown; but, wherever or howsoever the usage arose, the word is now applied even though it is known who did the murder (quia murdum fecerit)." From the Latin the word passed easily, of course, into the vernacular Romance tongues: e.g., the French meurtre, meurtrir. As the various Teutonic nations had conserved the Gothic word, in one form or another, in their own vernaculars, —e.g., in Anglo-Saxon, morth (death), morthor (violent death), and in German mord (murder), morden (to murder), morder (murderer),—their claim to it maybe regarded as aboriginal. It is observable, however, that in the standard Anglo-Saxon version of the gospels, written in the tenth century, the phrase in Mark xv. 7, corresponding to the strong Moeso-Gothic "maurthr gatawidedun" of Ulphilas six centuries before, is the weaker "man-slyht geworhte" (wrought manslaughter), and that it is this same "man-slyht" (manslaughter) that is used in other passages in that version in which the word murder occurs. It may be doubted, therefore, whether the word murder, so common in early English after the Conquest in the alternative forms morthre and mordre (which alternative was kept up in much later English in the forms murther and murder), was only the native old Anglo-Saxon word morth or morthor conserved, or was a recovery from the Mediaeval Latin directly or through the Norman-French. Murther, with the th sound, looks the more native English form; but Chaucer has both: e.g.,
"The tresoun of the murtheryng in the bed"—Knightes Tale.
"That of this mordre wist"—Prioresses Tale.
In the First Folio Shakespeare, the prevailing spelling of the word is, I think, murther, though the modern editors substitute murder.—D. M.
From Significant Etymology by James Mitchell 1908
When a man kills another the crime is murder, if the person is put to death intentionally and from malice,— the word coming from the AS. morthor, from morth, death, akin to L. mors, mortis, death, and Sans. mri, to die. We speak of perpetrating a murder. This verb perpetrate comes from the L verb perpetrare, to carry through, from per, through, and patro, patrare, to effect, accomplish. In Latin the word perpetrare was applied to anything gradual or indifferent, and they could perpetrate anything and use the word with reference to peace or war, to the fulfilment of a promise or the commission of a crime. But in oar language, where it was first used in statutes in reference to the committing of crimes, it is constantly associated with evil deeds. A man with us may perpetrate a crime or offence of any kind, an atrocity however bloody, a murder however fiendish. But we never use the word with reference to any good action. No doubt it is sometimes used humorously of something which the speaker professes to regard as execrable or shocking, as when a man speaks of another as having perpetrated a pun, but this merely implies that he has done something very bad, as, according to the judgment of some, he that would make a pun would pick a pocket. The verb to burk, signifying originally to smother, is taken from a proper name, that of Burke, an Irishman, who was hanged in Edinburgh in 1829. Along with another of the name of Hare, he murdered by suffocation a large number of people to provide bodies for dissection, for which he was well paid by the surgeons. They smothered their victims that the bodies might show no marks of violence. B is now used only in the figurative sense of smothering or passing over in silence, as "his book was burked by the critics," and to burk a question is to smother or suppress it by unfair means before it has been fairly discussed. Another name given to death inflicted by another is homicide, or manslaughter, from L. homicidium. Homicide may be of two kinds, culpable and justifiable, the latter being when a man kills another in self-defence. The name of assassination has been given to secret murder, from the French
word assassin, signifying one who kills by surprise or secretly, but this word assassin comes from the Arabic haschischin, which is the name of a religious sect, whose adherents have taken a vow to commit any murder which has been ordered by their chief, and who fortify themselves for this purpose by partaking of an intoxicating drink prepared from haschish, which is made from hemp.
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