This blog is for everyone who uses words.

The ordinary-sized words are for everyone, but the big ones are especially for children.

Wednesday, 1 November 2017

Nuts and Bolts: good heavens!

Having spoken of unquiet souls yesterday at Halloween, it seems only polite to give a nod to All Saints Day and the good guys today. 

Now, the thing about saints is that they're variable. You get saints who were holy for a long time, like St Roch, who is said to have observed fasts even when breast-feeding; and then you get saints like St Alban, who led a heathen life and converted to Christianity only just in time to get martyred.

And then, of course, you get saints like St George, who is most famous for being unkind to endangered wildlife.

Now, if George was good (and presumably he was, to have earned the saint label), then presumably we can say that St Alban was better, but that St Roch was best.

But why not good, gooder, goodest?

Well, it seems to have been because people like to be tidy. The root of the word good is the Germanic word gath, which started off meaning to gather together (as, indeed, you might guess by the words gather and together). Once things were together then they became seen as pleasing, and then, later, good.

(Goods, meaning things able to be sold, comes from the same idea.)

Inconveniently, though, by the time the word good had started meaning, well, good, there were other words already in use that meant gooder and goodest. 

The root of these words was bat, which meant advantage (it's left a faint trail in our word boot, as in I got my phone for £20, with a £10 voucher to boot). Now, as I said, boot had been around long enough to have its own comparative, betara, and superlative, betest, and so there wasn't really much point in making up new comparative and superlative forms for good.

The really cool thing is that when a toddler, trying to form a superlative, says I like that one even betera, he's not only being irresistibly cute, but he's speaking Middle English.

But then all two-year-olds are geniuses, aren't they?

Word To Use Today: well, what's the best thing you've done today? That'll do.

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