2022.12.31 “But”: wait, there’s more!
Years ago I noticed that the words for “but” in Romance and Germanic languages are a lot more diverse than expected. That is, I would have guessed that each branch would have maybe one or two sets of cognates for it, but there are quite a few more. Some languages have multiple words that translate to “but” — I guess that’s not too surprising, since English also has yet, however, etc.
Below is a compendium of various words for “but” in Germanic and Romance languages (including but itself), grouped by cognates. The languages included are generally the contemporary large national and regional languages (English, Dutch, German, Danish, Swedish, Norwegian, Icelandic; Portuguese, Spanish, Catalan, French, Italian, Romanian), plus Latin to drive home the point further, as it again has different words for “but” from its descendants. In most cases I’m just covering the most common word for “but” in each language. Wiktionary is my reference for all the etymologies.
Note that I’m concerned here with the basic conjunction meaning of but, as in “Well, this hot dog might have gone bad, but I’m going to eat it anyway” — rather than the buts of “He ate not one but three bad hot dogs!” or “’Tis but a single bad Hot Dogge. Forsooth, what harme could it Do?”
|Words by language||Etymological source||Notes, references|
|English but||Sort of a contraction of by + out, with the sense of “outside of,” “except.”||but on Wiktionary|
|Dutch maar||A sound shift and contraction from Middle Dutch ne ware, “were not,” with the sense of “except,” “only.”||maar on Wiktionary|
|German aber||From Proto-Germanic *aferą “behind”||I guess the connecting sense is something like “further.” aber on Wiktionary|
|Danish, Swedish, and Norwegian men||From (or “from the same source as,” which is a bit confusing) Old Norse meðan “meanwhile,” “as long as.” However, while the Swedish etymology on Wiktionary lists that as an influence, it notes the direct source as Middle Low German men, man “but,” “only,” in turn seemingly from Old Saxon niwan which means “lately.”||Maybe the sense drifted from “lately” for niwan to “during this time” to “meanwhile” to “but“ for men, man? Hmm. men on Wiktionary — see table of contents there for each language. (Just noticed that men also means “but” in Haitian Creole, derived from mais!)|
|Icelandic en||Not listed in the Icelandic entry on Wiktionary, but the Old Norse entry on the same page shows that en means “but” there as well, and it’s listed there as the source for Icelandic en. That’s an unstressed version of enn “yet,” “still”; see Wiktionary for its proto-Germanic roots.||en (Old Norse) on Wiktionary, enn on Wiktionary|
|Portuguese mas, French mais, Italian ma||Latin magis “more,” “rather.”||mas on Wiktionary, mais on Wiktionary, ma on Wiktionary|
|Spanish pero, Catalan però, Italian però||Latin per hoc “through this,” with the sense of “for this reason.”||Not sure how much però is used in Italian vs. ma, but I found it interesting that both of the more frequent Romance roots are found in Italian. pero (Spanish) on Wiktionary, però (Catalan and Italian) on Wiktionary|
|Romanian dar||Uncertain, see Wiktionary for possibilities.||dar on Wiktionary|
|Latin sed||See Wiktionary for pre-Latin origins; related to se, the third-person reflexive pronoun, with the sense of “by itself,” “apart,” “only.”||sed on Wiktionary|