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This is a Wednesday’s Wonderful Words post, in which I chose a word, well-know or otherwise, and discuss why I think it’s so wonderful.

Rescue

[ˈrɛskjuː]

Verb (used with object)

  1. To free or deliver from confinement, violence, danger, attack, harm or evil; to deliver or save
  2. Law. To liberate or take by forcible or illegal means from lawful custody.

Noun

  1. The act or an instance of rescuing.
  2. As a modifier. A rescue party
  3. The forcible removal of a person from legal custody
  4. law  the forcible seizure of goods or property

Etymology:
1300–50; Middle English rescuen or rescowen, from Old French rescourre: re + escourre; ‘to pull away, shake, drive out, remove’ from Latin excutere  (ex + cutere, from quatere ‘to shake’)
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Before researching for this post, I had assumed that rescue had an etymology linked with risk, because presumably there is generally some risk linked with rescuing someone. However, while both came into the English language at the same time and from the same source, they appear to be unlinked; at least in terms of etymology. They might be linked in terms of phonaesthesia.

Phonaesthesia is a concept in language that words with similar sounds have similar meanings. Cling, clamp, clammy, clay, clutch, for instance, all start with cl and all have a similar sense. Wiggle, waggle, shoogle and giggle all suggest a side to side movement. Of course, there are exceptions to each rule, the idea being that it is a subconscious process dictating the language. Risk and rescue might, this way, be linked.

What I find more interesting about rescue, however, is the etymology. It derives from a word meaning ‘to shake’, which, to me at least, suggests getting rid of something, which suggests something contrasting completely to rescuing. It reminds me of the difference in Irish and English slang for ‘to kiss’. The English, pull, suggests bringing something towards you, attracting it. The Irish, shift, suggests the opposite. That a word that means move away is slang for something romantic seems baffling, just as the etymology of rescue does.

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