History: Who’s story?

History – meaning stuff that happened in the past.

No surprises, history is old, the word dates back to Proto-Indo-European (PIE), the common tongue of all modern Indian and European languages in around 3500 BCE. The PIE word it stems from is ‘Widtor’which is made up of two parts ‘wid’, actually a corruption of ‘weid’ meaning ‘to know’, and ‘tor’ which meant a person doing it – similar to how we might say ‘hip-ster’ or ‘fraud-ster’.

When the word reached Greek (around 900 BCE) it became ‘histor’ – actually, a much smaller change than it may seem as the pronunciation of ‘W’ and ‘H’ is quite close and as proto-Indo-Europeans never wrote anything down and the Greeks used a different alphabet to modern day, a lot of words changed from ‘W’ to ‘H’. Over time ‘histor’ morphed into ‘historia’. Both meant to know something from enquiry (rather than experience). It was the Roman’s who gave the word its current meaning of a factual story of the past, it then travelled through old French as ‘estoire’ before reaching English in about the 1400s.

I’ve heard some people question whether the etymology relates to the male pronoun but ‘his’ didn’t begin being used with relation to males until between 1000 CE, much later than ‘ his’ became part of ‘history’ was being used.

 

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