Origin of 'Gory' Misses Bull's-Eye

By Rob Kyff

March 13, 2019 3 min read

"The running of the bulls got off to a gory start." That was the first sentence in a CBS News report last summer on the annual ritual in Pamplona, Spain. A double meaning, perhaps?

This zany Spainy tradition ranks right up there with that wild festival in Benol, Spain, where people joyously pelt one another with big, fat tomatoes. Oh, the tomanity!

The CBS sentence, with its possible double meaning, led me to wonder whether there might be a connection between "gore" meaning "to pierce or wound" and "gore" meaning "clotted blood from wounds produced by violence." After all, the former often results in the latter.

But my conjecture missed the bull's-eye. The noun "gore" derives from the Old English "gor," which first appeared during the eighth century with the meaning of "filth, slime or dung." During the 1500s, this "disgusting stuff" denotation of "gore" narrowed to the word's current "bloody" definition.

The verb "gore" derives from a completely different Old English word: "gar," meaning "spear," which also gives us "garlic," from "garleac" — literally, "spear leek" (a leek with a sharp smell).

I've also wondered whether there's a link between the noun "ply," meaning "a layer of something" (as in "plywood" or "two-ply paper towels"), and the verb "ply," meaning "to wield, practice or traverse," as in to ply a carving knife, a trade or the seas.

After submitting genetic samples from these two words to Ancestry, I discovered that the two types of "ply" do share a common parent: the Latin root "plicare" (to bend or fold).

One branch of the "plicare" family gave us the English noun "ply," meaning "a layer that is folded or bent into something," as well as the noun "pliers," a tool used to bend or twist.

The verb "ply" emerged when "plicare" eloped with the rascally Latin prefix "ad-" to produce the Latin verb "applicare," meaning "to bend or bring things into contact; to exert force on." English adopted "applicare" as "apply" with this same meaning, and the verb "ply" is simply a shortening of "apply."

Similarly, I've always wondered whether the tree "pine" and the verb "pine," meaning "to yearn intensely for something unattainable," grew from the same root. After all, there is something very sappy about pining.

Nope. The tree "pine" derives from the Latin "pinus" (pine tree), while the yearning "pine" comes from the Latin "poena" (punishment), which also gives us "pain" and "penalty."

No connection. Aw, shucks. Picture me pining under a pine tree.

Rob Kyff, a teacher and writer in West Hartford, Connecticut, invites your language sightings. Send your reports of misuse and abuse, as well as examples of good writing, via email to [email protected] or by regular mail to Rob Kyff, Creators Syndicate, 737 3rd Street, Hermosa Beach, CA 90254.

Photo credit: at Pixabay

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