Monday, October 24, 2011

En-Uk's Art: Window into the Past

My twelve-year-old son En-Uk, as readers doubtless know, has his own blog, which he calls En-Uk's Art Blog and which he posts to daily, adding artwork after artwork after artwork, except when he's gone, as he was recently, missing a couple of days due to a soccer trip.

Before leaving, he posted an artwork titled Color on Thursday:

To my eyes, and the eyes of others, this looks like a postmodern stained-glass window, or so the comments space implies. Perhaps this interpretation influenced his next artwork, posted yesterday after a break of two days:

This one's actually titled Window, but are we looking out or in? Either way, the image reminded me that I had intended to look into the etymology of the word "window." As readers know, I spend time nearly every day teaching my children English. The other day, En-Uk and I read a story that mentioned a window, and I told En-Uk that I used to pronounce this word as "winder" -- that's with a short "i" as in "window," and it rhymes with "fender." That was part of my Ozark dialect, and there was a pattern to this 'mispronuniation', for I pronounced "pillow" as "pillar" (rhymes with "miller"). Explaining that dialectical variant etymologically would itself be an interesting linguistic search . . . but not today. Anyway, that brief anecdote made me wonder about the "-ow" in "window." The "wind-" part surely came from "wind," but what did the "-ow" come from? "Maybe from 'hole'," I speculated, thinking aloud with En-Uk. But I wasn't sure, and I promised En-Uk that I'd find out.

I remembered that promise this morning. The search for "window" was embarrassingly simple. I simply clicked over to The Free Dictionary's entry on "window":
The source of our word window is a vivid metaphor. Window comes to us from the Scandinavian invaders and settlers of England in the early Middle Ages. Although we have no record of the exact word they gave us, it was related to Old Norse vindauga, "window," a compound made up of vindr, "wind," and auga, "eye," reflecting the fact that at one time windows contained no glass. The metaphor "wind eye" is of a type beloved by Norse and Old English poets and is called a kenning; other examples include oar-steed for "ship" and whale-road for "sea." Recently we have restored to the 800-year-old word window a touch of its poetic heritage, using it figuratively in such phrases as launch window, weather window, and window of opportunity or vulnerability.
This apparently comes from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language (fourth edition, Houghton Mifflin Company, 2000). We now know that "window" comes from "wind-eye." I suppose this particular "kenning" comes from the impression we have of windows as the eyes of a building, combined with the fact that no glass was used in the old days, thus letting in wind as an eye lets in light.

Next etymological puzzle to decipher: that dialectical form "winder" (and "pillar").

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