Etymology gleanings for January and February 2020 | OUPblog

Engl. breath, German Atem, and Greek átmus

Are Atem and átmus “vapor, steam,” the latter known to us from atmosphere, related? Most probably, they are not, even though t in German Atem goes back to th (þ) and though the original vowel in Atem was also long. The vowel á in átmus is the product of a contracted diphthong (ae), with the digamma (F) in the middle. Indeed, some dictionaries hedge and say that perhaps the words are related after all or add that they have the same type of word formation. Those polite evasions are hardly needed. It will be remembered that the problem of Atem arose because Murray isolated br- in breath (see the post on January 22, 2020). As a curiosity, I may mention Henry Cecil Wyld’s puzzled question about where Murray found this element. Yet a few pages later, while discussing the etymology of bring, he pleaded for the protoform br-ing. No one in the world is perfect.
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