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What is the origin of the word huge (adj. and adv.) meaning "very great, large, or big; immense, enormous, vast"?

Both OED and Etymonline say that it might be from an Old French word which has an unknown origin.

Etymonline:

mid-12c., apparently a shortening of Old French ahuge, ahoge "extremely large, enormous; mighty, powerful," itself of uncertain origin.

OED:

Middle English huge, hoge, apparently aphetic < Old French ahuge, ahoge, ahoege, in same sense, of unknown origin. It is, however, noteworthy that no connecting link in the form of huge in Old French, or ahuge in early Middle English, has as yet been found.

Would it be possible to find further details?

Additionally, OED mentions "aphetic" in the etymology of the word. In phonetics and phonology, apheresis (or aphesis) is defined as the loss of a word-initial vowel producing a new form called aphetism. Was this historical sound change common when borrowing words from Old French? This might help to find an answer to the origin of the word.

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    If the OED says it's of unknown origin, you've exhausted your resources. Dec 23, 2021 at 22:50
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    Hill in German is Hügel, so it may have a common origin with huge. Haugar (and other variants) referred to mound in Old Norse. Maybe?
    – turkey
    Dec 24, 2021 at 2:36

2 Answers 2

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Because of the changes when borrowing words from Old French, it is certainly possible that the origin of huge is high. "High" in German appears to be hoch, and there appears to be other earlier versions of it like hōh (Merriam Webster says the origin of hoch is from Old High German hōh), hoog, etc. It is conceivable that one of these evolved into ahoge, with it meaning "at high". (a could've meant at much like modern French à.)

Haugar (and other variants) referred to mound in Old Norse. Hill in German is Hügel. The words for hills and mounds may have resembled those for high, and hills and mounds then suggested huge. Therefore, the word ahoge would've originated with the meaning "at high", which eventually evolved into huge with a pronunciation change.

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  • suppose these are known comparands and that, if the ODE does reject these, then because of formal problems. The biggest problem in this case would be the language lawyers guarding the french treassure, I reckon
    – vectory
    Dec 25, 2021 at 5:01
  • There is some evidence in the book The Oxford History of English Lexicography. Unfortunately, I couldn't access to the full page of the discussion on the etymology of huge. The book also mentions that "Wedgwood traced hug and huge to the same root."
    – ermanen
    Jan 10 at 6:04
  • @O... The book is now available at Google books (books.google.co.uk/…) and says "Wedgwood traces hug and huge to the same root [...] Wedgwood suggests the interjection “ugh!” as the origin of “to hug” and says (by comparison to the Old English houge: to feel horror at, cf. heug: aversion disgust): “the meaning of huge then is ‘so great as to cause terror’.” This seems a little speculative to me.
    – Greybeard
    Jan 23 at 12:10
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There's another possibility. William Taylor, in English Synonyms Discriminated (1850) includes the word huge alongside bulky and stout. He argues that "huge" is actually derived from the Welsh word for hog (hooch)—not from any Germanic word for "high."

Huge is derived by Johnson from the Hollandish hoogh, high; but this does not explain the use of the word.

Part, huge of bulk, Wallowing unwieldy, enormous in their gait, Tempest the ocean.

Where is there any symptom that height makes a part of the idea of the word? ... High forests consist of tall trees, huge forests of spreading woods. The word is not applied to graceful, but only to awkward bulk and unseemly appetites. A huge whale. A huge mountain. A huge serpent. And Shakespeare: a huge feeder. Hooch is Welsh for a hog, and this is no doubt the true beginning of the adjective. A huge man is a hog of a man; a huge mountain, a hog of a mountain; a huge feeder, a hog of a feeder.

Taylor concludes the section with the claim that these synonyms are related in origin:

Bulky, stout, and huge are all epithets borrowed from cattle. ...the hog [tends] to awkwardness; and these accessory ideas are accordingly mingled with the general idea of large-sized, which they all convey.

William Taylor, English Synonyms Discriminated (London, 1850), 165–69.

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  • As the first record found so far of "huge" is a1275 Prov. Ælfred 709 in Old Eng. Misc. 138 Þuru þis lore and genteleri he amendit huge companie, it seems that Welsh is unlikely to be the origin.
    – Greybeard
    Feb 3 at 23:11

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