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English 'Side' Words

The word "side" goes all the way back to Old English, but we have lots of modern idioms and phrases that use the word "side," including "sidekick," "sideburns," and "blindside."

By
John Kelly, read by Mignon Fogarty,
November 16, 2017
Episode #595

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Thanksgiving image to illustrate phrases that include the word side.

We may talk a lot of turkey during the holiday, but US Thanksgiving is really all about the sides. Yes, we pile our plates with mashed potatoes and green beans, but we also feast on the many other great sides the English language has to offer.

From All ‘Sides’

During the holiday, both sides of a family may gather together out in a relative’s home in the countryside. The cook may serve up food on a sideboard, with the stuffing cooked on the inside of the bird.

At dinner, some may take sides of a political controversy, while others may just stay on the sidelines—of the American football game on TV, that is, where a ref may flag a player who is offside.

A distant aunt may pull an unsuspecting nephew aside for some colorful side comments. That’s better than her husband, who corners a cousin about the new siding on his house.

Besides the family drama, too much food will split sides, as will the convivial laughter. Celebrants can cap the meal with a postprandial snooze: How about sideways on the sofa right by the fireside? The drowsiness is surely just a side effect of all the turkey’s tryptophan—not the booze, of course!

Inside ‘Side’

English really dishes up the “sides.” This may not be surprising, as the word has had a lot of time to develop in the language: the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) dates “side” back to Old English, when, much as now, it named the sides of the body.

“Side” has many cognates in the Germanic languages, but its ultimate origins are unclear. Proposing a Proto-Germanic root, philologist Walter Skeat has suggested an earlier, literal meaning of ‘that which is extended.’ This is possibly connected to another early side in Old English, this one meaning ‘long’ and ‘spacious.’

Let’s have a look at—er, taste of—some other particularly interesting side words in English.

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