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I was wondering if this word is in anyway related to some ancient diety or religion, if so which ?

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closed as general reference by Clark Kent, Jim, simchona, jwpat7, Mahnax May 17 '12 at 4:46

This question is too basic; it can be definitively and permanently answered by a single link to a standard internet reference source designed specifically to find that type of information.If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

Which sense? Elder as in the tree or elder as in a person? – deutschZuid May 14 '12 at 23:28
See Etymonline. – Mahnax May 14 '12 at 23:28

1 Answer 1

The entry in Etymonline that Mahnax posted is correct, as far as it goes. But it turns out that elder the tree and elder = older come from different Proto-Indo-European (PIE) roots, according to the AH Dictionary of PIE Roots.

Elder the tree (English elderberry) comes from the PIE root *el-² (i.e, the second root in the PIE dictionary that has the shape el- -- the asterisk in front of the root is to show that it's reconstructed, not attested (PIE was spoken long before writing was invented. This root meant 'red, brown'; other English words derived from it include elm, alder, elk, auk, hellebore, and eland.

Elder the comparative form of old, on the other hand, comes from the PIE root *al-³, which means 'to grow or nourish'. A short list of other English words from this root includes alderman, old, alto, haughty, hawser, altitude, enhance, adult, alumnus, alimony, proletarian, and abolish.

Elder = older is an example (as Etymonline says) of Umlaut. Umlaut means changing a back vowel like a or o to a front vowel like ä or e in anticipation of a front vowel in the next syllable. This is still a productive process in German, where alt, the word for 'old', has a comparative älter (pronounced /elter/). But it's no longer productive in Modern English, though it's also responsible for the plural mice from mouse (originally /mise/ from /mus/ before the Great Vowel Shift).

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Word etymologies are so intriguing. :) – Kaiser Octavius May 15 '12 at 2:47

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