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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.
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Friday, April 29, 2011

Paying the Piper (and not calling the tune)

Here in Canada, it's time to pay the taxman, as the deadline for filing our tax returns is April 30. And when you send off your cheque to the nice people at Revenue Canada, you are literally appeasing them, for the word “pay” derives ultimately (and surprisingly) from the Latin word pax, meaning “peace”. This is how it happened. A Latin verb derived from pax, pacare, meant “pacify”. Specifically it was applied, not to sticking a soother in a baby's mouth, or to pacifying warlike tribes, but to placating people to whom you owed money, the only way to do that being to give them the money! So pacare came to mean “give money to” – “pay”, in fact. As the Latin word evolved in Old French, the middle “c” was dropped, and, like most of our words having to do with money (including “money” itself), this one came into English after the Norman French conquered England.

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About Me

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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.