This is the full read-only archive of the "Ask the Wordwizard" section of the original Wordwizard site. The responses to the questions originate from Jonathon Green, the compiler of the Cassell Dictionary of Slang and numerous other dictionaries.
The prefix ur- means ‘primitive, original, earliest’ and refers to the ancient Sumerian city of Ur of the Chaldees, which flourished around 3500BC. It remained one of the major cities of the known world for another thousand years before it was captured by Sargon of Akkad c. 2340BC. The subsequent amalgamation of Akkad and Sumer produced the Babylonian civilisation - and it is to the need for translations from Sumerian to Akkadian that the world owes its first ‘dictionaries’ (albeit inscribed on clay tablets). A rather later lexicographer, Noah Webster, in working out the etymologies for his own American Dictionary of 1828, believed firmly (if erroneously) that ‘Chaldee’ was the first of all languages, the real-life ‘Tower of Babel’, as it were, from which all other tongues sprang. Indeed, ‘ur’ is especially popular in linguistics and the German word ‘ursprache’ (primitive language) has been often used in English philological works. Ur should not be confused with another monsyllable ‘echt’, from the German meaning ‘real, true, genuine’.ACCESS_POST_ACTIONS
Signature: Jonathon Green