litter, welter, miasma

This morning, out of the welter of vague half-formed thoughts that ran through my head as I woke up, the first coherent one was something like this:

Is litter as in trash cognate with litter as in a bunch of puppies born at once?

I decided to look it up, and then I began composing this entry in my head, and then I thought:

…and while I’m at it, what’s the origin of welter?

And then I thought:

…and if welter isn’t the word I mean, then what about miasma?

So I opened my MW11 dictionary app, and here’s what I found:

  • All of the meanings of litter (including two I hadn’t thought of: a mobile chair for carrying a passenger, and the material that goes in a cat’s litter box) derive “from Anglo-French litere, from lit bed, from Latin lectus.” So what all of those things have in common is beds, of one sort or another.

  • Welter was indeed the word I wanted: “a chaotic mass or jumble.” It’s from “Middle English; akin to Middle Dutch welteren to roll,” and is related to voluble in that both are connected to Latin volvere, to roll.

  • Miasma isn’t really the word I wanted, but it’s still a great word. It goes back to Greek miasma, “defilement, from miainein to pollute.”

Join the Conversation