If it wasn’t clear, “moody” is a word found in the English language. It generally implies a sense of melancholy on the thing it is describing.

However, in other Germanic languages, the cognates of this word mean “courageous”. For example, in Dutch, “moedig” means “brave”. Why does English have such a unique definition for the same word?

  • 2
    The OED has the earliest-attested English meaning as 'brave', found in Beowulf. This meaning is obsolete. A second obsolete meaning is 'haughty, headstrong'. The surviving meaning of 'melancholic', 'given to mood swings', and so on is attested as early as the thirteenth century. I would just point out that all three of these meanings characterize Achilles in the Iliad, and so the semantic path is far from implausible. – legatrix Mar 28 '20 at 15:12
  • But it doesn’t seem like other Germanic languages have these alternate meanings. Where does English get them from? – Axel Tong Mar 28 '20 at 15:14
  • 1
    That I don't know, and I'd be surprised if anyone can give you a convincing answer beyond outlining a plausible path. There is much randomness in semantic drift. – legatrix Mar 28 '20 at 15:17
  • 2
    The complete and total answer to most "why?" question about language is "Because that's the way it is" You can trace the historical development of a change, but that still does not answer the question of why it happened there and then and didn't happen somewhere else or some other time. – Colin Fine Mar 28 '20 at 15:26
  • 1
    @ColinFine as a language learner, the main interest in such similarities is for me to better remember words with similar etymologies in foreign languages. The “why” doesn’t necessarily matter in this case; the “how” is more important. – Axel Tong Mar 28 '20 at 15:32

There's a trivial association between mood and Ger. Mut, in which "bravery" is just a circumstantial entailment of the social expectations there and then entailed by the moral ethos of the time.

Unmut still rather corresponds to mood, in the bigger semantic field of "moral", "attitude", etc. Ger. müde conversely means "tired, sleepy", perhaps not from the same root (cf. *mew-, assume dimm, fuzzy), but certainly seen in connotations of moody (~ having Unmut).

Therefore, the adjective with -y must be secondary, half built from the noun, half from the root in müde, and thus not directly equivalent to mutig.

Further, mood might be comparable to modus, too (cp. rile-midel vis-a-vis ethics). Whereas Mut contrasts with Wut (anger, part. or adj. wütend; Tollwut, adj. tollwütig), Hut (alertness, chiefly in auf der Hut sein, cp. hut, house, v. hüten, behüten *(s)kew- "to cover, protect").

Further appearant compositions that have nothing much to do with bravery are Anmut (adj. anmutig, part. anmutend), Schwermut (adj. schwermütig), Missmut (adj. missmutig), Mutwillen (adv. mutwillig, part. mutwillens), Gemüt (literally the facility that embodies mood; cp. Gemächt, Macht, *might [and magic], …) and gemütlich (comfortable (e.g. of a couch), pleasant, light (of a stroll in the park). Also cp. Vergnügen, genügen, genug, Genüge versus modesty, moderation.

Further, motzen, to mutter, and several more entries in the Lexicon under m- might become conflated, initially, who knows. [TODO: what do Kronnen say?] As far as I know, Middle High German Umlautung (Schwebelaut) is not fully understood. [PS: I had first written missmütig under influence of schwermütig--that's how easy these can change. I noticed when proof-reading, but still had to confer the spellchecker, lol.]

Conversely, German brav rather exclusively describes an obedient, well mannered subject (of children, dogs, etc). It's probably a loan from Romance languages (viz. bravo), I assume, thus uninteresting. But it shows an analogic semantic development in English.

Further comparisons, e.g. with Beruf (calling, job-title, burden) read as obedience (call and response, responsibility), thus further Dienst (work, service) would be highly speculative in search of a parallel in Mut.

Also always confusing: courage, care and Lat. cura are not appearantly related [wiktionary].

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

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