Home Grammar The Grammarphobia Weblog: I’m a riddle: Am I ridiculous?

The Grammarphobia Weblog: I’m a riddle: Am I ridiculous?

The Grammarphobia Weblog: I’m a riddle: Am I ridiculous?


Q: Many riddles are ridiculous. Might “riddle” and “ridiculous” be associated?

A: No, “riddle” comes from rædels, Outdated English for the phrase sport, whereas “ridiculous” is finally derived from ridere, classical Latin for to chuckle.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines “riddle” on this sense as “a query or assertion deliberately phrased to require ingenuity in ascertaining its reply or that means, ceaselessly used as a sport or pastime.”

The primary OED instance is from an Outdated English translation of the Hexateuch, the primary six books of the Hebrew Bible (the Torah plus Joshua). Right here’s an expanded model of the quotation from Numbers 12:8:

“Ic sprece to him mude to mude 7 openlice næs ðurh rædelsas” (“I communicate to him head to head and clearly not by way of riddles”).

The OED says rædels comes from the Germanic base of rædan, Outdated English for to learn, which initially meant to think about, guess, uncover, and foretell in addition to to scan writing silently or aloud.

In case you’re questioning, the “s” of the singular rædels was dropped in Center English on the mistaken impression that it was a plural ending.

As for “ridiculous,” the OED says it entered English by way of certainly one of two adjectives derived from ridere: the classical Latin ridiculus or the post-classical Latin ridiculosus. Each meant laughable.

The earliest OED quotation for “ridiculous,” which we’ve expanded, is from a Sixteenth-century treatise on schooling. This passage discusses whether or not the picture of God might be in each man if some males should not very godlike:

“If that whiche is in euery mannes bodye have been the ymage of godde, Certes thanne [certainly then] the ymage of godde weren’t onely diuers [diverse], but in addition horrible, monstruouse, and in some half ridiculouse: that’s to say, to be laughed at” (Of the Information Whiche Maketh a Smart Man, 1533, by Sir Thomas Elyot).

Lastly, right here’s a newer, expanded instance from “Eminent Area,” a brief story by Antonya Nelson, within the Jan. 26, 2004, situation of The New Yorker:

“This similar newspaper had introduced the arrival of Mary Annie’s first grandchild early the summer season earlier than, slightly woman, named one thing fanciful and trendily ridiculous, one thing that her dad and mom, notably her mom, Meredith, former dope vendor and hell-raiser, hoped and prayed would go well with her as she emerged into the world.”

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