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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.

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