I was reading a text yesterday in both English and German and I came across a word that I have never understood completely in English: withstand.
It would seem, from looking at the word, that it would mean “to stand with”, but actually, according to Dictionary.com, it means “to offer strong resistance or opposition to (someone or something)”
Where did this meaning come from?
In German, the word is widerstand, and that’s where I found my connection. I have been studying comparative historical linguistics, looking at German and English and the changes that both languages have undergone in order to fin connections. One sound change, called the Second Sound Change, has as one of it’s characteristics change in consonant sounds, specifically one example is /th/ which became /d/.
English did not undergo this shift, but German did. So we see a lot of words that have ‘th’ in English that have a ‘d’ in German, like thorn and Dorn, thirst and Durst, this, that and dies, das.
So, the with in withstand is not derived from the word with, but from the Old English (Old Saxon) wið, meaning against. So wiðstandan, means to stand against, not to stand with.
I will freely admit that I am a nerd, but I found all of this very interesting, as I found real life examples of what I have been studying in my German Linguistic classes.