Friday, November 19, 2010

Friday Ramble - Frost

Frost is one of those words which seems to have been around forever, inhabiting a veritable thicket of roots, shoots, tendrils and thorns. The word (and most others sounding even somewhat like it) can be traced through a whole forest of twigs, branches and stems rambling off in all directions and into every corner of human language and meaning. They all land up in the same place.

I peer into my tattered old OED, and it gives me the following, a dense and thorny thicket if there ever was one: frost Old English, frost or forst in Old Saxon and Old High German; Old Norse frost, Dutch variant vorst, Germanic frustaz, -am (from freusan meaning "freeze" plus the abstract suffix -t-. The form frost sayeth the OED was probably established by Old Norse influences. Strange as it may seem, the Latin form pruina and Proto-Indo-European preus are tucked away in the frosty forest of meaning too. The earliest (PIE) root form preus describes sensations of both extreme cold and burning.

Frost is one of the earliest surnames ever recorded anywhere, and it was once worn by anyone born in the cold seasons of the calendar year. It's lovely stuff, and particularly hoarfrost which anoints bare trees on November mornings and turns them into gems for a brief and shining moment. The first part of hoarfrost (hoar) has its origin in early German and hails from hehr, meaning sublime. In the Old High German, the word became hér, and it meant old. Old Norse wrote the word as harr and used it to mean 'grey with age'; Old English turned it into hār and the Middle English form was hor.

There is sibilance at work here, an onomatopeic aspect (or sound) to a word which rolls trippingly off the tongue, decorating trees, roofs and fallen leaves on nights when the thermometer dips below freezing.

Wherever the word frost originates, it glitters and sparkles and gives off light for an hour or so after sunrise before melting away, and no two crystals are ever quite the same, a natural wonder if there ever was one. This morning, frost turned the grays and browns of the village into a magical place, something craved and cherished in a season when skies are leaden, daylight hours are short, and the sun in all its pale abbreviated splendor is hidden by clouds for days at a time.


the wild magnolia said...

Old words can still move our hearts. A look at word origins is heady stuff for me.

Thank you for sharing.

christinalfrutiger said...

What an exquisite photograph...I can't think of too many things more beautiful than frost edging a leaf or a berry.
I also must get one of your loon printed t's. My favorite bird in all the world. How does one get ahold of you have e-mail as I have some questions and of course compliments! :)

Victoria said...

Stunning photograph, and a very interesting post.