I was watching Modus the other night (in Belgian version of Dutch w/Eng subtitles) & noticed their word for “but” sounded like the Italian “ma.” I guessed it was a French influence [their word is “mais”]—but no! The Dutch word for “but” including in Netherlands is “maar.”
Someone asked about this at the site lonelyplanet.com (thorntree/ speaking-in-tongues forum) 12 years ago (!).
“Q.Any chance that the respective Dutch and French words for "but" are etymologically related?”
The answer seems to be no, but I’m not buying it.
First guess went (in part): “I don’t know enough Dutch to say, but mais is from Latin magis = more (the original sense shows up a little more clearly in jamais = never, nevermore, and désormais = henceforth).” [My add: dés-or-mais meaning ‘henceforth’ = [literally] from + the hour + more; “jamais” is properly used together with “ne”— ne…jamais meaning ‘never’= [literally] not + at this moment + more.]
The parenthetical part seems to carry across the Romance languages: the sense “but” is equivalent to “more.” It seems odd, as we tend to think of ‘but’ as introducing a limit, not adding more. Yet if you think of the very similar “moreover” and “furthermore,” they can mean either ‘additionally’ or ‘yet.’ Substitute “in addition” for “but” in any sentence and it means the same.
Back to that forum: someone with knowledge of Dutch reported: “I checked two etymological dictionaries, neither of which connects 'maar' with 'mais'. 'maar' comes from an old negating particle 'ne' and an optative form of 'wezen' (to be): 'ware'. Older forms of 'maar' are nemaer, newaer, nemare, maer, etc."
By the way, the Dutch word for “more” is “meer.” The etymology is saying, “but” in Dutch – “maar”—does not come from words like “nevermore” – even though they look like it [& Dutch is very close to English] – it comes from the idea “not was” [isn’t, wasn’t].
PIE “ne” is “not.” Derivatives in English include “never.”
PIE for more = me (with long accent over e). [Old Eng for more is “mara” with long accent over first a.]
PIE “meg-“ [circumflex over g] = great. Various English derivatives include magnify, magnificent et al – so the same connection to Latin as referenced in the “first guess” above, re: French ‘mais’ from Latin ‘magis’ [means ‘more’ in Latin as well]. Doesn’t this suggest PIE “me” (more) and “meg-“ (great) are related? …I guess the real question is whether the Dutch words “maar” (but) and “meer” (more) have completely different word roots.
Also: Per the etymology cited above, although Dutch “maar” may start with “m” and thus resemble words meaning “more,” the origin of the word is actually “ware,” a form of the verb wezen (“to be”). They say “ware” was combined with “ne” [old newaer or nemaer], & eventually became “maar”…
Well maybe so… but I find it very peculiar that the “waer” part of the word can also be expressed as “maer”! I looked up the conjugation of wezen (Dutch ‘to be’) and are NO M’S THERE! Plus, the similarity to Old English “mara” (more) cannot be ignored.
Anybody know MORE about old Dutch, &/or PIE to untangle this?
Where's Jim Bisso when you need him?
The Swedish conjunction is men. Maybe similar derivation?This message has been edited. Last edited by: Geoff,