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Island of Wonder

A small piece of dry ground surrounded by water may be referred to as an island or isle in English.

In some neighbouring European languages, this concept is called ilha (Galician/Portuguese), isla (Spanish), île (French), Insel (German), isola (Italian), oileán (Irish).

Now, here is the first surprise: isle and island are not related. One came through Latin and the other through Proto-Germanic. Here’s the second surprise: the Latin one is not the one you’d suspect (at least I did not). And here’s the final catch: they don’t even come from the same Proto-Indo-European root!

Isle comes from Old French île (in origin, isle), from Latin insula (“island”). Its ultimate origin is uncertain though it’s suspected to come from in salo, with salo being an ablative of salum (“the open sea”).

[Aside: Ablative is a case (like a verb conjugation but for other kinds of words) that is used in some languages to mark movement away from something]

Island used to be written yland until its orthography changed to look similar to isle. Its root is Old English ieg (which itself meant “island”) + land. On turn, ieg came from Proto-Germanic *aujo (“thing on water”). And this ultimately came from PIE *akwa- “water”, a root we might recognize as present in many other European terms as acqua, aquaauga, agua

Sources: [1] [2] [3]

Originally published in The blind mouse.

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