Word Geek – Father


This month Word Geek looks at the origins of the word ‘father’ which in its most basic definition is described as ‘a man in relation to his child or children’. The origins of the word we use in English today actually reach further than you may think.

The Old English word fæder, is of Germanic origin; related to both the modern-day Dutch and German words vader and Vater respectively. These words came from an Indo-European root shared by the Latin word pater and the Greek word patēr.

The word ‘father’ was believed by philologists in the late 1700s to show a link between languages that had previously not been considered to be related. When Sanskrit ‘pitar’, Latin ‘pater’ and Greek ‘patēr” are seen side by side, there are clear similarities, further enhanced when Old English, Old Norse and German are added to the mix: faeder, fathir and Vater respectively (as shown below). Theories also abound that the reason for the ‘p’ sound in so many different words for ‘father’ is that ‘pa’ (along with ‘ma’) is one of the first sounds babies make.

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