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Wedded to the DNA of words

DNA is part of our modern world. Police use it for proof, medical experts study it, some ordinary citizens explore their own. How about the DNA of commonplace words or phrases?

Today’s honeymoon may be a weekend jaunt or a fantasy cruise, but in ancient times it consisted of exactly 30 days — or a moon. The bride and groom were to drink a potion of honey each day for 30 days following the ceremony.

As for the party itself, there is now usually a best man meant to safeguard the ring and get the groom to the church on time. Centuries ago in Scotland, acquiring a mate was done in a more caveman manner — by kidnapping the girl. To do this, the groom selected his strongest and bravest friends as groomsmen, and he who was bravest and strongest was his best man.

Across the marital aisle, the word bride has its origin in the Old English “bryd,” meaning betrothed or newly married. Its Gothic cognate meant “daughter-in-law,” and in ancient Indo-European custom, a married woman went to live with her husband’s family. The modern woman would likely question that move but would even more likely bristle at another trail leading to the word “bru,” which means "to cook, brew, make broth.” It was customary that these duties would be part of the new daughter-in-law’s job.

After the wedding, whether in today’s world or that of yesteryear, the couple begins a brand new life. If you think of "brand" as a piece of burning wood, you can easily see the origin of the phrase. It dates back to the Middle Ages when open fires were used to mold metal objects. The freshly created product, when taken from the flames, was called "brand" new.

One final expectation of these rites is the toast. Raising glasses and enjoying a drink in honor of the couple is common practice today. In 17th-century Europe, however, the custom included an actual piece of toast in the bottom of a large vessel of ale or wine. It was passed from drinker to drinker, with the guest of honor accepting it last, drinking and then consuming the toast.

So to all of you, Cheers!

— Sandi Ekberg taught high school English in Medford for 30 years, with a special interest in vocabulary, grammar and usage. If you have grammar questions you would like answered, email her at ifixgrammar@charter.net