• startle •
Pronunciation: stahr-dêl • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Verb
Meaning: 1. To alarm, frighten, or surprise suddenly. 2. To cause someone to jump or start.
Notes: This verb has produced an adjective from its present participle, startling, but no other offspring. Revelations are often startling. The verb itself may be used as a noun: "Your goose gave me quite a startle". The final -le is often omitted, probably for reasons given in the Word history: "Your goose gave me quite a start."
In Play: We are startled by the unexpected: "Mona was startled by her mother's spiked, rainbow-colored hair, but she struggled not to show it." And the unexpected can be found in unexpected places: "Fritz took one bite of the Cajun broccoli mousse and jerked back with a startled expression on his face."
Word History: It might seem obvious that "to startle" means "to cause to start" in the sense of "move quickly then stop". However, today's word comes from Old English steartlian "to kick, struggle", while start comes from Old English styrtan "to leap up". Both these words, however, originate as suffixed forms of the Proto-Indo-European root ster-/stor- "stiff", mother of a family with some interesting characters. You can find a family resemblance in cholesterol from Greek chol- "bile" + stereos "solid". Extended form storg- went on to produce stork (from the stiff movements of the bird) and starch (for obvious reasons). A metathesized variant became the word for that stiff form of walking, the strut, and, oh, yes, the word for that stiff way of looking at folks, the stare, comes from the same ancestor.