Yesterday was supposedly World Sauntering Day (though some people seem to think the date has been moved to August 28th.) I knew nothing of this holiday until I saw it on my iGoogle homepage on the WikiHow gadget. My first question to myself was “Why did I install this gadget?” Then I asked “Did I saunter yesterday?” The answer to the first question was, “To have a daily reminder of the silliness of this world.” The answer to the second was, “No, but I did hike.” Does hiking count? I suppose it doesn’t because not once during the hike did I saunter. I trudged, plodded, bounded, skipped, jogged, dragged, strode, and marched, but not once did I wander, mosey, stroll, perambulate, or even saunter.
The Eskimos have a gazillion words for snow? Well, step aside because I believe English has a gazillion and one words for walk. Actually, neither language has quite the proliferation of vocabulary as urban legend likes to claim. The list of words for snow in various Eskimo languages can be attributed partly to their prolonged exposure to the stuff during much of the year, which means they have more time or inclination to perceive more subtle variations than we do, and thus need more words for it. However, English is no slouch in the vocabulary department. Certainly, there are English-speakers in Northern climes who speak of snow, slush, flurries, blizzards, sleet, freezing rain, hail, and flakes. Many of us also know the difference between good, packing snowball-fight snow and powder. So in this sense, there doesn’t seem to be much difference between the two languages. Perhaps we both have more words for various types of frozen precipitation than, say, the Bantu languages of central Africa, but not to such a number that it deserves to be included in some Whacky Fact of the Week feature.
(Though, if you allow me a momentary tangent, there are some interesting words in Luganda, okusowola amongst others, that neither we nor our Eskimo neighbors seem to need, at least not in the form of one single, dedicated vocabulary word. Which I think is pretty neat.)
Another possible cause for a legendary number of words for snow in Eskimo languages is the fact that they are highly inflective languages. If you count all the inflections of one base word, then of course the list grows. It would be like counting blizzard and blizzards as two separate words rather than one word and its plural. English is not as morphologically prolific but it is, if I may be crude, a linguistic whore. We will borrow, beg, and steal any word from any language at any time in the past, present, or future. We’ll take it from any of them. This could help account for our alleged lexicon of a million words. We’ll also, incidentally, give it away to anyone as well, and not just random words either. We’ll sell the whole language to the highest bidder.
Could it help account for our apparent love for synonyms of the verb to walk? Without counting inflections of the verb (walks, walking, walked), there is quite a list of synonyms. Let’s look at the origins of a few of them. All etymologies are taken from etymonline.com. To start with, the word itself:
Walk – Old English. O.E. wealcan “to toss, roll,” and wealcian “to roll up, curl, muffle up,” from P.Gmc. *welk- (cf. O.N. valka “to drag about,” Dan. valke “to full,” M.Du. walken “to knead, press, full,” O.H.G. walchan “to knead,” Ger. walken “to full”), perhaps ult. from PIE base *wel- “to turn, bend, twist, roll” (see vulva). Meaning shifted in early M.E., perhaps from colloquial use of the O.E. word. “Rarely is there so specific a word as NE walk, clearly distinguished from both go and run” [Buck]. Meaning “to go away” is recorded from c.1460. Trans. meaning “to exercise a dog (or horse)” is from 1470. Walk-up in ref. to an apartment not accessible by elevator is attested from 1919 as an adj., 1925 as a noun.
And now, for some of my favorites:
Trudge – “to walk laboriously,” 1547, of unknown origin. The noun meaning “an act of trudging” is attested from 1835.
Plod – 1562, of uncertain origin, perhaps imitative of the sound of walking heavily or slowly. Plodding “diligent and dull” is attested from 1589.
Sashay – 1836, from mangled Anglicization of Fr. chassé “gliding step” (in square dancing), lit. “chased,” pp. of chasser “to chase,” from O.Fr. chacier “to hunt,” from V.L. *captiare (see capable, and cf. chase, catch). The noun is attested from 1900.
Mosey – 1829, Amer.Eng. slang, of unknown origin, perhaps related to British dial. mose about “go around in a dull, stupid way.” Or perhaps from Sp. vamos (see vamoose).
Rove – “to wander with no fixed destination,” 1536, possibly a Midlands dialectal variant of northern Eng. and Scottish rave “to wander, stray,” from M.E. raven, probably from O.N. rafa “to wander, rove.” Infl. by rover (q.v.). Earliest sense was “to shoot arrows at a mark selected at pleasure or at random” (1474).
Straggle – c.1400, “to wander from the proper path, to rove from one’s companions,” perhaps from a Scand. source (cf. dialectal Norw. stragla “to walk laboriously”), or a frequentative of straken “to move, go.” Specifically of soldiers from 1529.
Perambulate – 1568, from L. perambulatus, pp. of perambulare “to walk through, go through,” from per- “through” (see per) + ambulare “to walk.” Perambulator “one who perambulates” is first recorded 1611; sense of “baby carriage” is first recorded 1856; often colloquially shortened to pram.
And finally, the word that started it all…
Saunter – c.1475, santren “to muse, be in reverie,” of uncertain origin. Meaning “walk with a leisurely gait” is from 1667, and may be a different word entirely. Some suggest this word derives via Anglo-Fr. sauntrer (1338) from Fr. s’aventurer “to take risks,” but OED finds this “unlikely.” The noun meaning “a leisurely stroll” is recorded from 1828.
German, French, Latin, Spanish, Norse, and Misc…clearly, the British felt the need to borrow words for various types of walking. And it’s true that they love their walking. There is even a British Walking Federation. Go to Google and search for “British walks” and you’ll be met with more than a million sites dedicated to informing people on the best places to walk in Britain. Not jogging, or hiking, or cycling or driving. The British love a good stroll down a lane, or an after-dinner constitutional through town, or a bracing march through the countryside. Perhaps they loved it so much that they were in need of that many more words to describe minute differences between types of walking – words which all English speakers inherit, whether we love to walk or not.
Whatever the ultimate reason, we have a lot of words for the idea of transporting oneself using one’s legs, and so if you, like me, missed World Sauntering Day, then perhaps we should try to celebrate it on August 28th. In the meantime, I plan to try a little sashaying today, and maybe a little moseying tomorrow. Then I’ll check my thesaurus. That should get me through August with no problem.