August 13, 2013

Case File #013.08.13: GLUE

English speakers started using the noun glue around 1225, only back then it was spelled glu or gleu and was used to refer to any viscid substance. It was borrowed from the Old French glu, meaning “birdlime” (birdlime is an adhesive made from tree bark and was once commonly used to snare small birds), which was itself derived from the Latin gluten, meaning “a gummy paste or wax.” The verb sense of glue, however, came to English via a slightly different route. Derived from the Old French gluer, meaning “to paste, fasten, or cause to adhere,” the verb entered the English lexicon around 1380, though it was first spelled gliwen and then changed to glewen about two decades later. As Middle English evolved into modern English during the fifteenth century, the forms of both the verb and the noun shifted to glew, which in turn became the now familiar glue sometime during the first half of the sixteenth century.

©2013 Michael R. Gates

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