The Founding Fathers, Deconstructed: George Washington

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[Ed's note: We're very excited to introduce a fantastic Founding Fathers mini-series in honor of the 4th of July, penned by our summer intern and etymology enthusiast, Jay Lyon. George Washington, as the first elected president of the United States, seems like a great guy (and name) to start with, don't you think? Stay tuned for Patrick Henry tomorrow, followed by....?]

George Washington:

George (alongside its many counterparts, such as Jorge, Georges, Giorgio and Yuri) stems from the Ancient Greek word for farmer; a fitting moniker for our agrarian first president. This Greek root, georgos, itself derives from ge (earth) and ergon (work).

The words most visibly related to George are “geography”, “geology”, “geometry” and pretty much anything with “geo” anywhere near it. But from the ergon half we get words like “organ”, “urge”, “surgery” and anything that ends in “-ergy” (like energy, synergy and allergy).

Despite its similar structure, the word “gorge” comes from an entirely different root meaning “to swallow” (the same root as one of my favorite etymological pairings, “gargle” and “gargoyle”, both of which have to do with spouting from the throat) and has nothing to do with George.

Washington originates from a British town of the same name, which according to the Online Etymology Dictionary literally translates to “estate of a man named Wassa”. No word on who Wassa was, or what Wassa means (other than the presumably unrelated West African ethnic group of the same name), but the most important thing this tells us is that the capital of the United States is a town that’s named for a person that’s named for a town that’s named for a person.

-Jay

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