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Wacky Word Wednesdays – Fear


by Xanthia Tucker

One of my favorite emotions is fear! Thus, this week’s pioneering post will investigate the origins of words for this hair-raising sentiment that all but the bald have felt. First, fear itself. We have nothing to fear but it. As a noun, “fear” stems from the Old English faer, a calamity or sudden danger. As a verb, however, the Old English faeran means “to terrify or frighten.” “But wait,” you exclaim in terror (Latin terreo, terrere, to fill with fear), “I thought faeran was intransitive! I thought it meant ‘to feel fear’!” Well, sure, that’s a fine perspective if you can sleep at night knowing you’ve dismissed the eons that preceded the 14th century. Some of us can’t.

Speaking of time, you know what has been around forever? Rocks. For the sake of argument, let’s say you had a really bad nightmare one night in which you were being chased down a granite mountainside by boulders the size of steroid-pumping Hummers. You would be horrified (Latin horreo, horrere, to tremble or shudder), right? Maybe even… petrified? Would you say that you might even be so frightened that you would transform into a stony concretion, or rock, or petra, if you were having this dream in ancient Rome? I thought so.

So, so far this post has been a little strange. (Brain) feathers feeling a bit ruffled? Well, let me leave you with this: you’re not the only one. In fact, when Americans first started using the expression “scare up” in 1846 to mean “to procure or obtain,” they were actually referring to the way they, as huntsmen, roused game from cover. Which begs the question, of course, of scarecrows. What needs to be “scared up” in a field of juicy corn? And who is feeling scared: the birds or the little children staring at their neighbor’s old track suit, skewered and stuffed with rotting straw? I guess the safest thing to say in this situation is this: Friends of a feather have nothing to fear but… becoming fearless, but literally bald, eagles.

Xanthia Tucker ‘13 tutors at the Writing Center.


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