It’s no wonder that many words map back to rural life. For most of history, that’s how life was. Words like pastoral and bucolic are commonly used to describe rural scenes. And there are others with rural roots that have taken on new meanings. In an earlier post I mentioned peculiar, “of one’s own cattle, flock.” It used to be a long haul into town, and as a result, some farmers spent more time chatting with cows than people. When they did occasionally make the trek, townfolk may have thought: here comes ol’ Home on the Strange!
Villain comes from the Latin villanus, “farmhand.” Notice villa in there: “country house, farm” (related of course to village, originally “farmstead”). The word traveled up through French taking on “peasant, farmer, commoner, yokel, base or low-born rustic.” But it was a few more centuries before “one with evil motives or actions” got into the mix. Sometimes leaving the farm doesn’t end well.
Here’s another word that’s taken a journey: amenable. This is from the Latin minare “to drive (cattle) with shouts.” Also in the mix is minari “to threaten.” Huh? How unamenable can you get? But unlike villain, this one gets better. Rather than morphing into scoundrels, the wild cow drivers became open and responsive to suggestion. You know, amenable.
A peregrine is a type of falcon, but it also has a rural, archaic meaning: “coming from another country; foreign or outlandish.” The roots are interesting. The egr maps to ager “field, territory, land, country.” Combined with the prefix per “away,” the sense of “from a field away” takes shape. And there’s the close cousin pilgrim “from beyond the country, fields,” wandering from one field to the next. Upon settling down, pilgrims needed to practice agriculture “the tending of fields” to survive.
As rural communities came together, people often formed congregations. Here we have the prefix con “together” with the base root greg “flock.” Folks who thrived in congregations were said to be gregarious, “sociable, disposed to live in flocks.” Those who didn’t congregate were thought to be egregious “outside (the norms) of the flock, wayward,” and the worst offenders were segregated, “made apart from the flock.” Seems harsh. Maybe folks who stayed out on their own farms weren’t that strange after all. Here’s to being peculiar!