Gnati-go-lucky: an Etymological Ramble

I was asked so often about gnati, as well as other terms used in The Flight of the Silver Vixen that I decided to include a glossary in the book. To take it further, however, gnati, from Old Westrenne gnas, to know, is almost always used in the interrogative, meaning “do you understand?” As such it is exactly parallel to the traditional American “savvy”, which was used in the same way, coming from Spanish ¿sabe?

I confess I dislike the modern usage of “savvy” as an adjective, which seems to be based on the folk-etymology of regarding the y as performing the same function as in English words like “crabby” or “happy”, when in fact it is an Anglicization of the Spanish second-person e. Hearing a person described as “savvy” always makes me wince a little.

Speaking of the y in “crabby” and “happy” is itself interesting. In “crabby” it clearly turns “crab” into “crab-like” but in happy? Well, “hap” means a circumstance or “hap-pening”, now only found in the word “mishap”. It is one of the rather charming aspects of language that a neutral “hap”, or “happening”, should be regarded as essentially a happy one.

The same is true of “fortunate” – fortune can be either good or bad, but when an event is described as “fortunate” we take it to refer to good fortune. Another example is “cheer”. Cheer, or chere, originally means “face”. The common mediaeval greeting “What chere?” (preserved in the Cockney greeting “watcha”) means literally “how is your face” – ie, happy or sad – thus “watcha” is essentially the same as American “howdy” (=”how do you do?”)  both no longer remembered as questions.

Chere can, or could, be good or bad, but something “cheerful” is now always taken to refer to good cheer.

On the other hand, “fortuitous” does not (as many people seem to think) describe something happy or lucky (did you know that Germans do not have separate works for happy and lucky? They are both glucklich), but simply something that happens – a chance event. To call something “purely fortuitous” means  that it happened just by chance, and often that it was therefore coincidental rather than causally connected with another event. The common misuse stems from a confusion with “fortunate”.

I hope this little etymological ramble has not seemed to you “rambling”, in the current sense of directionless and confused, but rather like a more traditional ramble – a pleasantly undirected walk through the gayer flora of language.

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Annalinde Matichei is a charming intemorphic alien and authoress of The Flight of the Silver Vixen. She loves to hear from readers so drop her a note
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One Response to Gnati-go-lucky: an Etymological Ramble

  1. Rolling Duck says:

    How interesting about the origin of “cheer”.

    It makes me wonder about the expression “cheer up”. Was the “cheer” originally a verb, as in “drink up”, or a noun as in “chin up”? I wonder.

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