Battling Etymologists

By now there were two dozen kids, each in possession of a cell phone with a distinct cry. The place buzzed, rumbled and hiccupped like an earthquake in a cuckoo clock factory. But I was still intently batting around words related to bat.

What about battle? Sure enough: it comes from late Latin battuĕre ‘to beat.’ It dates from at least the 13th century. I’ll skip the boring quote from Robert of Gloucester and note that in the prologue to the Canterbury Tales Chaucer tells of the knight, “At mortal batailles hadde he been fiftene.”

Battle_Fontenoy

  • Grandes Chroniques de France – Morgan Library M536

  •                                Battle of Fontenay-en-Puisaye

Battalion didn’t enter English until the 16th century. According to the OED, we got it from the French bataillon, which came from Italian battaglione, “augmentative or diminutive of battaglia, ‘battle.’” So which was it: big or little battle?  The OED editors may still be battling it out, but the folks at the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (5th ed.) are going with “augmentative.”

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One Response to Battling Etymologists

  1. Lucia says:

    Thanks for this post, I’m always on the look out for interesting etymology stuff. In case you’re interested, myself and some other students are also writing a Blog about etymology – theetymologist.wordpress.com – I hope you like it!

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