This question came as I analyzed the origin of the english words "happy" and "happen" and after my research i found the reconstructed proto-germanic root "hampijaną". However i found that this root only appears in the North Germanic languages and was probably adopted into english from Old Norse. Is it common for some roots to be adopted only in one of the germanic branches?How come it completely disappeared in western germanic languages such as German,Dutch,Low Saxon etc.?

2 Answers 2


Words die out and become replaced by neologisms at any time. When it happens shortly after a major fork into branches we see only one branch retaining the original word.

It is not really uncommon to find attestations of a certain word only in some sub-branch of a language family, both North Germanic and West Germanic have words that are absent from the other branch.

EDIT: For the definition of a branch, shared innovations (neologisms, sound shifts, grammatical innovations) are necessary. Therefore we see new words (of whatever origin, e.g., composition, loan words, new inventions) in each of the branches as well.

  • 1
    You might also mention that new words can be picked up by only one branch, either as loans or neologisms. (Though that doesn't seem to be what happened here.)
    – Draconis
    Dec 30, 2018 at 16:20

“Happy” and “happen” were both formed within English from the noun “hap” (good fortune). The OED (Oxford English Dictionary, on-line version) indicates the etymology of “hap” as follows:

Etymology: Probably < early Scandinavian (compare Old Icelandic happ (neuter) chance, good luck, success (Icelandic happ), and Norwegian happ, Swedish regional happ, both masculine), cognate with Norwegian heppa to happen, Old Danish hap (adjective) lucky, Swedish hampa (reflexive) to happen (by chance), (regional) happa, habba to happen, succeed, Danish happe, and further with Old English gehæp (adjective) suitable, convenient, gehæplic (adjective) convenient, orderly, probably < the same Indo-European base as Early Irish cob victory (rare) and Old Church Slavonic kobĭ destiny.

If the Celtic and Slavic parallels are correct, it follows that this root is not restricted to North Germanic, but has to be ascribed to proto-Indo-European. Obviously, it has not been preserved in all branches of IE, or even all branches of Germanic. But this is the way that languages work.

  • 1
    Compare hope, as in "there's hope/there's a chance".
    – vectory
    Dec 30, 2018 at 16:33
  • @vectory Interesting correlation.Is it just your guess?
    – X30Marco
    Dec 30, 2018 at 16:46
  • 1
    "Hope" is not related to "hap".
    – fdb
    Dec 30, 2018 at 23:11
  • @fdb, I guess the roots kep- and kewp-~kwep- allow internal reconstruction? cp. to hop PIE kewb-, "vor Freude hüpfen". Ger. *Hampelmann, which is amusing. It's derived from a cross of ampeln (?), hüpfen "to hop" and humpeln "to hunch, limp"; cp. Ampel "traffic light, lantern" derives from ampulla, amphora; Does that remind of euphoria! Which reminds of good news or evangelion, Ger. Hoffnungsschimmer "gleam of hope (on the horizon)". The gloss "to smoke, boil" for kewp- reminds of *roast, happening. cp. rise, spring, Ger. Sprung "jump, move, fissure", bring.
    – vectory
    Jan 1, 2019 at 21:53

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.