Delving into the Etymological Mystery- Part XVIII – A Mother’s Day Special

by Chandrika R Krishnan

The term “Etymology” is the study of the origin of words.  The practice of etymology is uncovering the truth by tracing the root of a word.  Mother is one of the 23 oldest words in all languages. It is not only the oldest but the most essential.

The second Sunday of May is usually commemorated in honor of mothers.  Mother’s day is now just over a century old. The holiday began to be observed in West Virginia and Philadelphia in 1908. It was formalized by Congress in 1914.  In the beginning, it was a religious holiday, but since has turned extremely commercial.

Have you realized that the root of the word mother has a modicum of similarity?

“Mātā” (माता) is the Hindi word for “mother”, from Sanskrit matr. (मातृ).  According to The Oxford Dictionary, ‘mother’ comes from the Old English mōdor, from the Old Germanic moder, and from the Indo-European root mehter. It is also shared with the Latin mater and Greek mētēr.  But, if you think that all words that denote a mother begins with a M, you have a surprise. Genetrix is a word that comes from the Latin gignere which means  “to beget.”

Anyways, a mother called by any name still remains as sweet. Mother is the only person who sees the best in her children even if they drive her crazy.  The ultimate insult to anyone is to say, ” Even his mother will not like him!”

On mother’s day, I bring to you some of the rare mother’s day words.

Matrisate’ is a rare, disused word from the 1700s which means “to imitate the mother.”  Nathan Bailey included the verb matrisate in his dictionary in 1727Each one of us emulates our mother and takes one or more aspects of her.

Cropped shot of two little girls wearing over-sized high heels

Antipelargy, is defined by the 17th-century lexicographer Thomas Blount as “the reciprocal love of children to their Parents,” Nathan Bailey included this word in his 1727 Universal Etymological English Dictionary, although he added that it was “especially a Child’s Nourishing a Parent in old age.” Going forward we have philoprogeneity and philoprogenitiveness,  both of which are defined as “love of offspring.” And finally, matricentric is “gravitating toward or centered upon the mother.”

Well, I would love to end this column with an old RD Joke about mothers:

My mother, a master of guilt trips, showed me a photo of herself waiting by a phone that never rings. “Mom, I call all the time,” I said. “If you had an answering machine, you’d know.” Soon after, my brother installed one for her. When I called the next time, I got her machine: “If you are a salesperson, press one. If you’re a friend, press two. If you’re my daughter who never calls, press 911 because the shock will probably give me a heart attack.”

Well, that is a mother for you.  One who brought you into the world and no harm humoring her.


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1 comment

Manoj Kabre May 8, 2022 - 9:39 am

Excellent compilation of the words, which I never knew and would probably never know had you not made an attempt of this wonderful article. Kudos to you for always finding something very unusual and worth for us readers to read and remember. Best wishes. Happy Mother’s Day !


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