Welcome to the Wordlady blog!

This blog is about the fascinating, fun, and challenging things about the English language. I hope to entertain you and to help you with problems or just questions you might have with spelling and usage. I go beyond just stating what is right and what is wrong, and provide some history or some tips to help you remember. Is something puzzling you? Feel free to email me at wordlady.barber@gmail.com.
You can also order my best-selling books, Six Words You Never Knew Had Something to do With Pigs and Only in Canada You Say. Fun and informative!

Subscribe!

Subscribe! Fun facts about English delivered weekly right to your inbox. IT'S FREE! Fill in your email address below.
Privacy policy: we will not sell, rent, or give your name or address to anyone. You can unsubscribe at any point.

Follow by email

Search This Blog

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Chomping at the bit: bridle vs bridal

Just when I think there are certain homophone confusions no one will ever make, I come across ... "bridle party" instead of "bridal party". Admittedly, it's not that common a mistake (most of the examples on the web are journalists making puns in headlines about the horsey set), but some people do make it. And it's one you really don't want to make, as apparently the term is also used for a sexual practice that Wordlady doesn't want to get into. That is, she doesn't want to get into explaining it! Well, actually, neither does she want to... oh, never mind.

Back to my staid etymological persona!

Bridle goes all the way back to Old English, derived from a Germanic root bregdan (pull or twitch), which is also the origin of the word "braid". The -le ending is what is called an "instrumental suffix", meaning "something with which the root verb can be done"; for example a handle is something which you can take in your hand; a girdle is something which girds you. So a bridle, the headgear of a horse including the bit and the reins by which it is controlled, is literally a tool used for pulling.

Bridal, which also goes back to Old English, has a very interesting history. It was originally a noun, literally meaning "bride ale". It used to mean the banquet and other festivities associated with the wedding, when, of course, the Anglo-Saxons would quaff a lot of ale. I guess wedding receptions haven't changed much in 1500 years. But by about 1600, people started to think that "bridal" was an adjective meaning "of a bride". They were influenced by that -al ending, more typically used in adjectives (nuptial, mortal, fatal...) than in nouns.

Remember, using the wrong homophone is something that your spellchecker cannot identify or correct!

PS: some readers have commented that they think the correct expression is "champing at the bit". Please check out my other post about this, Breakfast of... chompions?

P.S. If you find the English language fascinating, you might enjoy regular updates about English usage and word origins from Wordlady. Receive every new post delivered right to your inbox! If you are not already subscribed, you can either:

use the subscribe window at the top of this page
OR
(if you are reading this on a mobile device): send me an email with the subject line SUBSCRIBE at wordlady.barber@gmail.com

Privacy policy: we will not sell, rent, or give your name or address to anyone. You can unsubscribe at any point.


Follow me on twitter: @thewordlady


2 comments:

  1. I think the correct phrase is "champing at the bit"

    ReplyDelete
  2. Dear Anonymous, Thanks for reading Wordlady. I also dealt with "champing" vs "chomping" in my post "Breakfast of ... chompions?". Please check it out.
    Katherine

    ReplyDelete

About Me

My photo
Canada's Word Lady, Katherine Barber is an expert on the English language and a frequent guest on radio and television. She was Editor-in-Chief of the Canadian Oxford Dictionary. Her witty and informative talks on the stories behind our words are very popular. Contact her at wordlady.barber@gmail.com to book her for speaking engagements; she can tailor her talks to almost any subject. She is also available as an expert witness for lawsuits.