Words like timocracy (a form of government based on ambition for honor) and Timothy (honor to God) come from time, which means "honor" or "worth."

According to Etymonline, timid (easily frightened) and timorous (fearful) come from timere, which means "fear" and is of unknown origin. Are there any other sources that hint at where these words might have come from? Are the "honor" words and the "fear" words connected to some shared root word?

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    An excellent question! I don’t have copies of the relevant literature available here now, but a brief search indicates that they are in fact not related, despite their similarity. The Greek τῑμ- root (note the long /ī/) seems most convincingly to be from PIE *kʷih₁-m- a metathesised zero-grade of the root *kʷei̯- ‘value, esteem, honour’ with an m-initial suffix (possibly originally *-men, which is a common PIE suffix). The Latin tim- root (note the short /ĭ/) cannot possibly be from the same root, and even de Vaan says no known cognates. – Janus Bahs Jacquet May 1 '15 at 22:31
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    It is also telling that while the Greek one means a variety of things relating to placing a price on something, valuing it, esteeming it, holding it dear (all positive things), the Latin one relates only to various forms of fear and loathing (all negative things). There doesn’t seem to much there by way of overlapping meanings (to honour and praise a god is also to fear the god, etc.). – Janus Bahs Jacquet May 1 '15 at 22:34

Greek versus Latin, obviously. Timocracy, yes, it's in Plato's "Republic". There was an Athenian called Timoleon contemporary with him, we need more of his sort today. And then Timotheos the recipient of Paul's Epistle, as you say.

But unless I've gone completely senile, timere is the Latin verb, and the root of all the "timorous" stuff. Why your online etymology site says unknown origin I don't know. Maybe they mean they don't know its origin pre-Latin, IOW its PIE pedigree. In which case I say they shouldn't be confusing people with that stuff. Any PIE common origin, I am not competent to say, other than to note that the meanings of honour and fear are not that far apart, especially when you are talking about doing it to God.

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    That's exactly what they mean: "timere 'to fear,' of uncertain origin"; and I was pretty clear that the question was asking about PIE origins. – Matt Gutting May 1 '15 at 21:02
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    Perhaps it's just my etymology background; but when I saw Nicole (who is distinct from me, and perhaps my phrasing threw you off) ask about "where these words might have come from" I automatically extended the tree of origin as far back as possible, that is, to possible common PIE roots. – Matt Gutting May 1 '15 at 21:12
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    Well, you did say "I was pretty clear" in your first, so I shall not apologise for thinking you guys might be an item or at least hot-seating. I don't have an etymology background, further than VI Classics, but that would be good enough for dealing with more lay enquirers such as don't know their Greek from their Latin; and I didn't pay due attention to the name Nicole, which I know does not belong to a noob. Pax? – David Pugh May 1 '15 at 21:23
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    Pax. (makes note not to use "I was pretty clear" to mean "I thought it was pretty clear" again) – Matt Gutting May 1 '15 at 22:07
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    Just to note that the Oxford English Dictionary (very reliable source, Athens-based log in etc) also lists timere as of uncertain origin. – Jascol Jul 1 '15 at 12:27

Here's a hypothesis. The Greek and the Latin roots may share more in common than this thread suggests. Although the Latin 'timere' is usually translated as fear, it also seems possible that this meaning comes from the concept of awareness of one's innermost vulnerability. Note that 'intimacy' comes from the Latin 'intimus' a close friend - perhaps one with whom we share our most private and vulnerable self. I don't have any insight on the Greek etymology, but my guess would be that 'honor' might be close to a concept of one's true self. And if this were the case it seems like the Greek and Latin meanings might not be so far apart after all. Just a hypothesis :-)

  • Interesting thought. – Nicole Jul 1 '15 at 13:03

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