[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?

3 comentários em “[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.


  2. This word very came to England by the french “vraie”, introduced in the Middle English at the XIII century by the time of Geoffrey Chaucer (for example, in his poesy in wich he describes: “… a very praktisour…”.


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