August 26, 2010
Swallows and swallowing
Swallow (the bird) and swallow (the verb) have different semantic roots. The words were not homophones in German and Old English, but grew together in Middle English.
swallow (bird): ME swalwe; OE swealwe; G Schwalbe ("swallow," name of the Messerschmitt 262)
swallow (verb): ME swalwen; OE swelgan; G schwelgen (to luxuriate/revel in, feast on); ME (noun form) swalwe (throat, abyss, whirlpool)
What made me curious about this were similarities in the kanji for swallow (bird) and swallow (verb) in Japanese (they're pronounced differently though).
tsubame (bird): 燕
enka suru (verb): 嚥下する
The only difference between the two is the radical for mouth appended to the kanji for swallow (bird). A Japanese friend suggested that because swallows nest around humans, it might have been derived from watching baby swallows feeding.
To be sure, 「嚥」 is rarely used in modern Japanese, with 「嚥下する」 specifically referring to the physiological act of swallowing. 「呑む」 or 「飲む」 (nomu) are far more common.