April 3, 2013

Case File #013.04.03: NEIGHBOR

Neighbor is a true purebred, one of those rare contemporary English words that can be traced back directly to the Anglo-Saxon period. Its Old English ancestor was a compound formed from neah, meaning “near” or “nigh,” and gebur, meaning “dweller” or sometimes “farmer.” Thus, to the old Anglo-Saxons, neahgebur simply referred to another farmer who dwelled nearby. When the word passed to Middle English, it transformed into neighebour and then became the more familiar neighbor (or neighbour for you Brits), but all the while it retained its original meaning of “nearby dweller.” It wasn't until some time after the late fifteenth century, when the variant neighborhood was formed, that neighbor also came to mean “something immediately adjoining or relatively near something else” instead of only being used to designate a nearby dweller like the one whose music is always too...damned...loud.

©2013 Michael R. Gates

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