Bring—brought—brought | OUPblog

Soon after the previous gleanings (February 26, 2020) were posted, a correspondent asked me to clarify the situation with the “prefix” br– in breath and bring (see the post on breath for January 22, 2020). I mentioned this mysterious prefix in connection with Henry Cecil Wyld, who accepted its existence in bring but doubted its validity in breath. From a historical point of view, we have two different components, even if both go back to Indo-European bhrē-. James A. H. Murray thought that br- in breath is a remnant of the root meaning “burn,” as in breed ~ brood, while br– in bring traces allegedly to the zero grade of the verb bear (zero grade is a term of ablaut; in this case, no vowel stands between b and r in br-; hence, “zero”); so Wyld, though, as we will see, the idea was not his. By contrast, in the full grade, as in bear, from Old Engl. beran, the syllable is supported by a vowel. Thus, bhr-1 and bhr-2, if those entities are more that figments of etymologists’ imagination (as they may well be), have different histories. But one feature unites them: if br-eath and br-ing consist of two parts each, both are blends, like Lewis Carrol’s galumph (gallop + triumphant) or Oxbridge (Oxford + Cambridge).
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