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Dictionary.com has this etymology for quaver:

1400–50; late Middle English quaveren (v.), blend of quake and waver

But Wiktionary disagrees:

From Middle English quaveren, frequentative form of quaven, cwavien (“to tremble”), equivalent to quave +‎ -er. Cognate with Low German quabbeln (“to quiver”), German quabbeln, quappeln (“to quiver”). More at quave, quab, quiver.

Given these differences, I am interested which statement is right.

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Try scrolling down on your Dictionary.com link there. Also, Etymonline is quite helpful. I'm voting to close since this is easily answered by the Etymonline link. –  Mahnax Sep 25 '12 at 3:24
    
The Online Etymology Dictionary, which I would consider more reputable than your two sources, supports the second account: etymonline.com/index.php?term=quaver&allowed_in_frame=0 –  alcas Sep 25 '12 at 3:24
    
Aaand beaten by 25 seconds by @Mahnax... –  alcas Sep 25 '12 at 3:25
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Why is etymonline considered a more authoritative source than reference.com? IMO, this is not general reference. –  coleopterist Sep 25 '12 at 3:31
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Good question. +1 –  Cerberus Sep 25 '12 at 3:31

2 Answers 2

up vote 2 down vote accepted

Quaver:

Collins:

C15 (in the sense: to vibrate, quiver1): from quaven to tremble, of Germanic origin; compare Low German quabbeln to tremble

Etymonline:

"to vibrate, tremble," early 15c., probably frequentative of cwavien "to tremble, shake" (early 13c.), probably related to Low Ger. quabbeln "tremble," possibly of imitative origin.

ODO:

late Middle English (as a verb in the general sense 'tremble'): from dialect quave 'quake, tremble', probably from an Old English word related to quake.

dictionary.reference.com:

1400–50; late Middle English quaveren (v.), blend of quake and waver1

Also,

[C15 (in the sense: to vibrate, quiver 1 ): from quaven to tremble, of Germanic origin; compare Low German quabbeln to tremble]

Webster:

Middle English, frequentative of quaven to tremble

First Known Use: 15th century

Wiktionary:

From Middle English quaveren, frequentative form of quaven, cwavien (“to tremble”), equivalent to quave +‎ -er. Cognate with Low German quabbeln (“to quiver”), German quabbeln, quappeln (“to quiver”).


Quake: All the sources used above agree that quake stems from O.E. cwacian / cweccan.


Setting aside the uncertainty between Old English cwavien and Low German quabbeln being the source, it appears to be true that quaver and quake are related, with, according to ODO, the latter possibly being the source of the former. However, there's no mention of waver anywhere besides dictionary.reference.com.

Google, on the other hand, points to a couple of sources that lend credence to the portmanteau idea.

Julie Tetel Andresen, author and associate professor of English (in 1999) at Duke University states:

The word-formation process du jour in American English is blending, that is, combining two existing words to make a new word. A couple of blends formed in the Middle English period (1150 to 1500) have survived into Modern English, e.g., scrawl (sprout + crawl) and quaver (quake + waver), as well as a couple from Early Modern English (1500 to 1800), dumbfound (dumb + confound) and apathetic (apathy + pathetic).

From the book, English words from Latin and Greek elements by Donald M. Ayers:

Other blends are smog (smoke + fog), radiclib (radical + liberal), slurb (slum + suburb) and its extension slurbia, Comsymp (Communist sympathizer), harmolodic (harmonic + melodic), comsat (communications + satellite), simulcast (simultaneous + broadcast), quaver (quake + waver), jargonaut ...

From the book, A Biography of the English Language:

However, among the numerous probable blends from ME are scroll from escrow + roll; scrawl from sprout + crawl; and quaver from quake + waver.

To conclude, while the (online) dictionaries do not mention the possibility of quaver being a blended word, there appear to be a few credible sources that do. There are, however, no authoritative sources that support this claim.

I'll be interested to know what the OED says about this.

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"scrawl = sprout + crawl" is a really weird contention. –  coleopterist Sep 25 '12 at 6:30
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Thanks for your detailed etymology list!!It deserve to accept this answer, although the OED is not in it. –  archenoo Sep 26 '12 at 1:35

The OED traces it, through quave, to a hypothetical Old English verb cwafian, with the qualification ‘further etymology uncertain, perhaps imitative.’ That's about as close as we're likely to get.

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Thanks for your help with the OED supplement, it's really helpful to know the OE word is hypothetical, just like the PIE root. –  archenoo Sep 26 '12 at 1:43

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