The Lyme Maze Game

Daedalus escapes the maze


Universal Workshop



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Here's a roundabout story that does get back to Portland:

Have you ever wondered what is "mid" about a midwife? Or what is "with" about withstanding and withholding and withdrawing?

I happened to read in a magazine (Synthesis/Regeneration, organ of the Greens in the U.S.A.) that the word midwife means someone who is with the mother giving birth, because the mid part "is" German mit, "with". I checked in the Oxford English Dictionary and found it to be roughly true: midwife could be from the old, now obsolete, English preposition mid, meaning "with" (which is of course cognate with German mit).

Delving further (small, much-used elements in a language are liable to have enormously long dictionary entries), one discovers a fascinating relationship between the two little words, which almost swapped places. Mid originally had all the meanings that with now has, except the one of opposition, as in fighting with and withstand and withhold. With had that meaning only. And so the two words can be found being used in contrast: as in the oldest example known for mid, which is an entry in the Old English Chronicle for the year 837:

AEthelhelm ealdorman gefeaht widh tha Deniscan on Port mid Dorsaetum.

But later (by the end of the 14th century) with took over all the meanings of mid. And so it can now be found contrasting with itself, as in the modern translation of that Old English sentence:

"Ethelhelm the alderman fought with [that is, against] the Danes with [that is, accompanied by] the men of Dorset on Portland."