ur- (the prefix)

Discuss word origins and meanings.
Post Reply

ur- (the prefix)

Post by Ken Greenwald » Mon Mar 10, 2014 4:55 am

Before starting a new posting all good Wordwizards are supposed to check to see if the ‘new’ topic has been previously discussed. I didn’t (>:), it had been (in Jonathon Green’s Ask the Wordwizard). So, rather than toss this perfectly good piece of work of mine into the recycle bin, I’m posting it. And, as it turns out, Green’s etymology raises a possibility that I'd missed (see here). However, I don't think his explanation is necessarily a slam dunk (see here).
<2014 “In the 1950s, Sid Caesar was the undisputed champion of television comedy. . . The comedy-variety show was unlike anything else on the air. At the time, TV was dominated by vaudeville and radio veterans who specialized in broad slapstick and silly one-liners. But Caesar offered a more intimate kind of humor, based on absurd characters and situations. ‘If you want to find the urtexts of The Producers and Blazing Saddles, of Sleeper and Annie Hall,’ wrote former New York Times theater critic Frank Rich, ‘check out the old kinescopes of Sid Caesar.’”—The Week, 28 February, page 35>
I don’t recall running across urtext in my previous travels and the prefix ur- doesn’t ring any bells. Which suggests that it might be time to check in with a dictionary (Incidentally, kinescope = the motion-picture record of a television program).

URTEXT noun (sometimes capitalized) (ûr tĕkst′) [1932]: The original text or the earliest version as of a musical score or a literary work.

Etymology: German, from prefix ur- + text

UR- prefix [1889]: representing German (also Middle High German, Old High German) ur-, denoting primitive, original, earliest, primordial, prototypical as ur-Hamlet, ur-origin, ur-stock, etc. See also the nouns Urheimat, Urschleim, Ursprache, and Urtext. German ursprache (= primitive language) has been frequently used in recent English philological works.

(Oxford English Dictionary and American Heritage Dictionary)

Some more ur-words defined:

ur-organism: See here.

ur-Hamlet: See here.

Urheimat: The place of origin of a people or of a language; homeland [German, prefix ur- + heimat home, homeland] (OED)

Urschleim (‘primordial slime’) a protoplasm from which all life had originated.[ German, prefix ur- + schleim slime] (OED)

For an informative and also witty discussion of ur-, see The Word Detective here.

The following quotes are from the Oxford English Dictionary and archived sources:
<1889 “Any light he can throw on the Ur-origin of the Fables.”—Fables of Aesop by J. Jacobs, I. page 37> [[‘original-origin’ sounds like overkill]]

<1901 “The Ur-Hamlet may have contained a number of these borrowings.”—Kyd’s Works by Boas, p. xlv>

<1932 “In these volumes . . . we have the nearest thing possible in Chopin's case to an Urtext.”—Times Literary Supplement, 14 July, page 511/3>

<1943 “The dreadful vulgarity, the Ur-Hitlerism of those ludicrous but vicious organisations.”—V. Nabokov in Atlantic Monthly, May, page 69/2>

<1950 “The concept of ur-language and ur-symbolism is of particular importance in Freud's thought.”—Psychiatry, Vol. 13, page 168/2>

<1966 “Above is Leonardo da Vinci's design for an ur-tank.”—Punch, 9 November, page 718>

<1977 “The importance of the folk example which he [sc.Bartók] argued to be one of the ur-sources of music.”—The Listener (BBC, London), 31 March, page 416/1>

<1983 “Russell Hoban is an ur-novelist, a maverick voice that is like no other.”—Sunday Telegraph, 13 March, page 14/6>

<1995 “. . . Tull tries to denounce Barry as a plagiarist by producing a pseudo ur-text of his best-selling novel . ..”—The Independent (London), 25 March>

<2005 “Though Pride and Prejudice was published in 1813, Jane Austen had completed a substantial ur-text called First Impressions by 1797, when she was only twenty-two.”— Commonweal (New York City), 16 December>

<2014 “ It is a model that has served as an ur-text for science fiction, endlessly reworked into books . . . and films . . .”—The Telegraph (London), 4 March>

Ken G – March 9, 2014
Post actions:

Re: ur- (the prefix)

Post by Erik_Kowal » Mon Mar 10, 2014 5:30 am

Wikipedia reports that the introduction to Misunderstood, Misused, & Mispronounced Words states the following:
This is not a succedaneum for satisfying the nympholepsy of nullifidians. Rather it is hoped that the haecceity of this enchiridion of arcane and recondite sesquipedalian items will appeal to the oniomania of an eximious Gemeinschaft whose legerity and sophrosyne, whose Sprachgefühl and orexis will find more than fugacious fulfillment among its felicific pages.
To which the only reasonable response is a hearty "Ur-dang!"

(Paraphrase: "This is not a {succedaneum / substitute} for satisfying the {nympholepsy / frenzy of emotion, as for something unattainable} of {nullifidians / unbelievers}. Rather it is hoped that the {haecceity / essence that makes something the kind of thing it is, and different from any other} of this {enchiridion / concise reference book} of {arcane / esoteric} and {recondite / hard-to-understand or obscure} {sesquipedalian / long and ponderous} items will appeal to the {oniomania / abnormal impulse to buy things} of an {eximious / pre-eminent} {Gemeinschaft / community} whose {legerity / quickness of mind or body} and {sophrosyne / mental stability}, whose {Sprachgefühl / ear for language(s)} and {orexis / desire or appetite} will find more than {fugacious / transient or fleeting} fulfillment among its {felicific / pleasure-generating} pages.

In case you're wondering, I had to look up more than half of those terms. :-)
Post actions:

Re: ur- (the prefix)

Post by zmjezhd » Mon Mar 10, 2014 3:07 pm

The German prefix ur- is related to the or- in ordeal (< Old English ordāl 'judgment'); the English word is related to the German word Urteil 'judgement'.
Post actions:

Re: ur- (the prefix)

Post by Shelley » Sun Apr 27, 2014 2:19 pm

In the Bible, wasn't "Ur" the name of the very first place Abraham lived with his people before he was instructed to pack it all up and go west? The ur-homeland, sorta.
Post actions:

Re: ur- (the prefix)

Post by Edwin F Ashworth » Tue Apr 29, 2014 9:27 am

One wonders whether the Urban Dictionary might turn out to be aptly named.
Post actions:

Re: ur- (the prefix)

Post by Phil White » Wed Apr 30, 2014 10:00 pm

The link to the Biblical place Ur is coincidental, nothing more.

Grimm relates "Ur-" to a whole bundle of different prefixes in various Germanic languages, most of which have a fundamental meaning "out of" or "from", the earliest being Gothic -us and -uz. The PIE *uds is proposed.

James has already pointed out the link to the English "or-".

It has long been used in certain branches of science that borrow heavily from German, such as psychology. I tend to go along with Word Detective and find its use outside of established scientific words rather tiresome.

One side note: Even German hyphenation routines in word processors have been known to make rather a hash of "Urinstinkt" (primary instinct), transforming it to "Urin- stinkt" (urine stinks).
Post actions:
Signature: Phil White
Non sum felix lepus

End of topic.
Post Reply