April 9, 2014

Case File #014.04.09: INCH

The noun inch, meaning “a unit of linear measure equal to one twelfth of a foot,” has been around since at least 1000 CE, but the original Anglo-Saxons spelled it ynch. It was derived from the Latin uncia, which meant, not surprisingly, “one twelfth” or “a twelfth part,” and during the twelfth century, the spelling of the English changed to unche, a form more closely resembling that of the word's Latin ancestor. At the beginning of the fourteenth century, however, the English form shifted again and became the now familiar inch. And not long after, the noun also took on its secondary figurative sense of “a very small degree or amount” (as when used in the colloquial phrase won't budge an inch), though inch didn't acquire its verb senses, “to move or progress by small degrees” and “to cause to move slowly,” until circa 1600.

©2014 Michael R. Gates

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