[History of words] The surprising origin of “very”

Last night, as I lay on my pillow, last night, as I lay on my bed…

Yes, so it was. Last night, as I lay on my bed, suddenly an idea came to me: could the word very come from the Latin word for “truth”, veritas?

Interesting possibility. Phonetically it makes sense. I wanted to check it right away, but surprise! the electricity was down. (Yes, that happens quite often around here.) Nothing to be done, and I went to sleep. But, sometime between midnight and dawn, I awoke – and the current was back on.

Lights on, off with the old Webster from the shelf! And there, on the yellowed page, it was:

Very: from the Old French verai, true, from the hypothetical Low Latin veraius, from the Latin verus, true.

And verus obviously comes from veritas. I won’t deny it felt good.

But how did the adjective very – “true, genuine” – come to be the adverb very – “in a high degree”?

Our friend Webster does not say it, but I would bet very as an adverb is actually a short form of the adverb verily – “truly”. So the trajectory would have been:

(adjective) very > (adverb) verily > (adverb) very

And the evolution of the idea is also easy to follow. If something is truly good, it is good to the core, wholly, completely, intensely, good. Therefore, good in a high degree.

Very means truly. Who would have said it. Doesn’t truth have the strangest ways of intruding in our lives?

2 thoughts on “[History of words] The surprising origin of “very”

  1. What a pleasant finding! Can we have an article on the relationship between virtue and virile next?

    Also: is there a way to enable a Disqus comments section for your posts? It seems to me not as many people have WordPress accounts.

    Like

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