Word of the Day You’d expect that somebody named Waters used to live beside some waters, just as somebody named Rivers used to live beside a river. It ain’t so. Just pronounce the name Walters as if you were from Phiwadewphia: Waowters. The dark English “l” was swawwowed up in the fowwowing consonant: cf. “walk,” “calm.” So the name Waters is a variant of Walters, as Wat was the old diminutive for Walter. That gives us Wat’s Son = Watson, Watts, and Little Wat’s Son = Watkins, Watkinson, and Little Walter = Watt. The unit of electrical power was named after the scientist James Watt. So, if your surname is Waters, that’s related to the word “wattage,” but it is not related to “water.” The name originally denoted the ruler of an army: cf. English “wield,” German “Gewalt,” German “Heer,” army. The underlying idea is the same as in the Greek name Polemarchus: war-ruler, army-ruler. Romance language speakers couldn’t pronounce that initial w: they “heard” it with a g coming before it (round your lips, pronounce a hard w, and you’ll understand why). So we have Italian Gualtieri, French Gautier. English, that most unusual language, has “doublets” beginning with g or w, depending on the road the word took to get here: guard, ward; guerrilla, warrior.

Articles by Anthony Esolen

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