Now here is an intriguing word. At first glance, you might well wonder where exactly it has come from. After all, if we compare it with words that mean “read” in neighbouring languages, or languages that share sources with English, it seems quite different. Let’s take a look and see what I mean:


In French, the verb is lire, in Italian it is leggere, and in Spanish we find leer. All these derive from the Latin legere, meaning “read”.


You might wonder if perhaps it has come from a Germanic root. But in German we find lesen, in Dutch lezen and in Swedish the word used is läsa.


And it’s no use turning to the neighbours who share the same island; in Welsh, the verb “read” is darllen. No relation to the English word. Is it from Greek perhaps? No, the Greek word is διαβάζω (diavazo).



So where does it come from? Well, it is much simpler than you might think. It comes from Middle English reden or redan, which itself comes from Old English raedan, which meant lots of things besides read: “counsel, discuss, advise, read”. It has a number of cognates in other Germanic languages today: Rat means “council in German, råd comes from Swedish, and in Dutch we find raad.


But can we trace the word beyond there? Well, yes we can. It comes from Proto-Germanic *raedanan, meaning “advise, counsel”. And this in turn derived from Proto-Indo-European root *re or *rei, which may have meant “reason, count”.


One thought on “Read

  1. English alone among the Germanic languages has native words for ‘read’ and ‘write’ (write is cognate with German reissen ‘scratch’), because the English learned both arts from the Welsh (as they called them) shortly after coming to Britain. All the other Germanic languages borrowed legere and scribere (German schreiben, e.g.)

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