Notes and Queries, Number 46, September 14, 1850 eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 53 pages of information about Notes and Queries, Number 46, September 14, 1850.

Alarm (Vol. ii., pp. 151. 183.).—­The origin of this word appears to be the Italian cry, all’arme; gridare all’arme is to give the alarm.  Hence the French alarme, and from the French is borrowed the English word. Alarum for alarm, is merely a corruption produced by mispronunciation.  The letters l and r before m are difficult to pronounce; and they are in general, according to the refined standard of our pronunciation, so far softened as only to lengthen the preceding vowel.  In provincial pronunciation, however, the force of the former letter is often preserved, and the pronunciation is facilitated by the insertion of a vowel before the final m.  The Irish, in particular, adopt this mode of pronouncing; even in public speaking they say callum, firrum, farrum, for calm, firm, farm.  The old word chrisom for chrism, is an analogous change:  the Italians have in like manner lengthened chrisma into cresima; the French have softened it into chreme.


Alarm.—­It is in favour of the derivation a l’arme that the Italian is allarme; some dictionaries even have dare all’arme, with the apostrophe, for to give alarm.  It is against it that the German word Laerm is used precisely as the English alarm.  Your correspondent CH. thinks the French derivation suspiciously ingenious:  here I must differ; I think it suspiciously obvious.  I will give him a suggestion which I think really suspiciously ingenious:  in fact, had not the opportunity occurred for illustrating ingenuity, I should not have ventured it.  May it not be that alarme and allarme is formed in the obvious way, as to arms; while alarum and Laerm wholly unconnected with them?  May it not sometimes happen that, by coincidence, the same sounds and meanings go together in different languages without community of origin?  Is it not possible that larum and Laerm are imitations of the stroke and subsequent resonance of a large bell?  Denoting the continued sound of m by m-m-m, I think that lrm-m-m-lrm-m-m-lrm-m-m &c., is as good an imitation of a large bell at some distance as letters can make.  And in the old English use of the word, the alarum refers more often to a bell than to any thing else.

The introduction of the military word into English can be traced, as to time, with a certain probability.  In 1579, Thomas Digges published his Arithmeticall Militare Treatise named Stratioticos, which he informs us is mainly the writing of his father, Leonard Digges.  At page 170. the father seems to finish with “and so I mean to finishe this treatise:”  while the son, as we must suppose, adds p. 171. and what follows.  In the father’s part the word alarm is not mentioned, that I can find. 

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Notes and Queries, Number 46, September 14, 1850 from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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