November 4, 2016
Posted by on
Sometimes a word just leaves me filled with questions. For example, what exactly is a fishmonger? And what does one have in common with a gossipmonger or a hatemonger? Finally, are there any other types of mongers out there and, if so, what do they do?
I’ve always understood intuitively that a fishmonger sells fish and that, by metaphorical extension, a hatemonger “sells” hate and a gossipmonger “sells” gossip. What piques my interest here is why this act of selling makes the person in question a monger, as opposed to a seller or some other word.
As it turns out, monger comes from the Old English word mangere, the noun form of mangian, meaning “to trade.” This is in turn related to the word for “many” or “much” in Old English, monig, which turns out to have deep connections within the Germanic and, further back, Indo-European language families.
As an example, related noun forms include the Old English menigu and Gothic and Old High German managi. Related adjectival forms of the word include the Dutch menig, Norwegian mange, Old Saxon manag, ancestors of the proposed Proto-Indo-European *menegh. This Indo-European root remained remarkably stable in the Slavic and Celtic branches of the language family, as evidenced by the Old Church Slavonic munugu, Old Irish menicc and Welsh mynych. This stability seems to me to indicate the foundational or fundamental nature of the concept of many, hence the need for the word from time immemorial.