• iron •
ai-êrn • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: 1. (Fe) A strong, hard magnetic metal that is used in the making of steel. 2. A tool or other implement made from iron or steel, such as a golfing iron or an iron used for removing wrinkles in clothing and other items made from cloth. 3. (Plural irons) Chains used as fetter.
Notes: If we add the common adjective suffix, -y, to iron, we get an unrelated word, irony. We do find in Merriam-Webster ironish "resembling iron", but most writers would use iron-like in this sense. The result is that even though this native word has been with us since Old English, it has no useful derivational family.
In Play: Since we are all familiar with this word, let's explore some figurative uses of it: "Putin has a strong grip on Russia, but not the iron grip of the tsars." Here is another: "The strength of the iron flowing through her veins impelled her forward to her goal."
Word History: Today's Good Word is a victim of "rhoticism", the conversion of R to S or vice versa. In Old English it was spelled iren, but it had a variant isen. The rhoticism must have happened in Old Germanic, for the German word for "iron" is Eisen and in Dutch, ijzer. No one knows for sure where the Germanic languages got this word. The Indo-European languages have different words for "iron" all from mysterious sources. The Latin word for "iron" is ferrum. The Russian word is železo, and all Slavic languages have similar words. The ancient Greek word was sideros. The nearest we can get to the origin of the Old Germanic word is Proto-Celtic isarnon, seen in Welsh haearn and Irish iarann. The Celts were certainly close enough to our ancestors to loan them many words. The Celtic word comes from the PIE word esrgw- (Genitive esnes) "blood". Maybe from the color of melted iron? (Now let's thank Tony Bowden of London for thinking of us when he discovered the fascination in the history of today's Good Word.)