Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Word Wonder -- touch

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

1. To place the hand, finger, etc., in contact with.  14. To affect the emotions of; move, especially to pity, gratitude, sympathy, etc.  -- Funk & Wagnalls Canadian College Dictionary

The word "touch" comes from the late 13th century French word touchier which meant "to touch, hit or knock." The French touchier came from the Latin word toccare, meaning "to knock or strike," as in to strike a bell or other object to create a sound. "Toccare," in turn, probably came from ancient imitative sounds (as many words do -- hush, buzz, clink). Imagine the sound made from striking a hollow wooden tube or wooden blocks: toc toc toc...

So, touching an object to get a sound became toccare, which became touchier, which became touch. And then it's only through the wonders of human communication and time that the current 106 related meanings (that I could find) came into use in English. Here are a few of them:
  • get in touch -- make contact with someone
  • soft touch -- a person who is easily manipulated. This term is first recorded in 1940.
  • touch -- to stir emotionally. First used in the mid-1300s.
  • touch -- to feel with the hand or other body part, from the late 1200s
  • touche -- an exclamation that comes from fencing, 1904. Has also come into general use to mean someone scored an emotional or intellectual point.
  • touched -- stirred emotionally, since the mid-1300s
  • touching -- affecting the emotions, from 1601
  • touch off -- usually means to set off an argument or sensitive feelings
  • touchy -- too sensitive, from 1605. This is probably an alternate form of "tetchy," which means the same thing.
Touch -- a plethora of meanings, most of which have something to do with human relationships and endeavours. We are all connected, or we distance ourselves, through touch.

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