Don’t Shoot the Messager

Rachel Lovinger   March 9, 2009
thomas_keeleyWhen you absolutely, positively must shoot the messager, reach for one of these. (via)

I recently went to Sundance, where I spent a good number of hours on waitlist lines, trying to get tickets to screenings. If you happen to be standing next to friendly people, you can have some pretty interesting conversations while passing the time together. On one occasion, I found myself waiting next to TV actor David Blue and several of his friends (yep, sometimes even famous people have to wait on lines). Their group was lively, funny, and friendly, even though we had all gotten there at 7:30am.

I popped in and out of conversations with them, on a variety of topics, and as we neared the end of our wait David said to me, “Since you’ve been so helpful, maybe you can help us figure out something else.” Then he said, “You know how you get a message? But the person who brings it to you is a messenger? Where did the N come from?”

Now, I never mentioned I was a content strategist. I must just exude a language-nerd vibe. Because it’s true, I love weird questions about language and etymology. I have to admit, though, I was stumped. But I do have an idea who would know. Bill Bryson has written an entertaining and informative book called The Mother Tongue: English and How it Got That Way which goes all the way back to the origins of the language and explains how a lot of the inconsistent word structures were introduced. He’s also written a follow-up, Made in America, which focuses specifically on American English.

Of course, having a fascination for strange word riddles isn’t a requirement for being a content strategist, but it doesn’t hurt. Wondering why things mean what they mean, and how some words evolve or acquire additional layers of association makes us subtle and adept communicators, crafting meaningful messages for our clients. Or messenges, if you prefer.

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4 Responses

  1. You’re killing me here. What’s the answer?

  2. I should have expected that someone would ask that! All I’ve been able to find is this comment on Douglas Harper’s Online Etymology Dictionary:

    messenger
    c.1225, messager, from O.Fr. messagier, from message (see message). With parasitic -n- inserted by c.1300 for no apparent reason except that people liked to say it that way

    I also have an email in to Bill Bryson, so I’ll let you know if he has anything else to add.

  3. […] first post is called “Don’t Shoot the Messager” and it’s about a conversation I had about the discrepency between the words message […]

  4. I think it’s grimm’s law, verne’s law or some other phonic manifestation in the growth of language:

    See:

    wikipedia Grimm’s Law or Verne’s law

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