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On the Verge Phrase: Origin and Meanings

By Edited Nov 13, 2013 1 5

Have you ever been on the verge of; a great discovery, a nose bleed, a divorce or any other myriad of verges? Did you ever wonder if it meant the same as being on the brink of? Actually the word, verge has some interesting etymology behind it.

The definition of etymology is basically the study of the origins and meanings of words. There are classifications like “folk etymology” which makes an attempt at changing the unfamiliar words to better known by really changing the form rather than the meaning. One example is the word female. Originally it was femella (Latin - femine- woman), but the English spelling came about because the people figured it had to come from male! Thus female was born. Anyways, etymology is an interesting study.

Back in the 15th century the word originated as a noun meaning "edge, rim," mid-15c., from M.Fr. verge "rod or wand of office," hence "scope, territory dominated," from L. virga "shoot, rod stick," of unknown origin. Earliest attested sense in English is now-obsolete meaning "male member, penis" (c.1400).” This last bit is particularly peculiar because of the meanings attributed to the word as it has evolved in language.

“Modern sense is from the notion of within the verge (c.1500, also as Anglo-Fr. dedeinz la verge), i.e. "subject to the Lord High Steward's authority" (as symbolized by the rod of office), originally a 12-mile radius round the king's court. Sense shifted to "the outermost edge of an expanse or area." Meaning "point at which something happens" (as in on the verge of) is first attested c.1600.”  The usage for the point at which something happens is common now in titles of entertainment like “Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown” (film and musical), or “Animals on the Verge of Extinction.”

The term is actually from French background. I looked up the Latin base which is ver meaning true. One word with this base is verisimilitude which means probable or having the appearance of truth. That could be tied in with the origins because around 1787 the word verge was meant to mean contiguous, to be on the verge or on the border. So, a true direction of sorts seems to be the evolution so far.

In the 17th century verge as a verb (vergere) translated as to bend, incline or turn. So it still had some inclination toward the original noun relating to an area, outermost edge, on the border. Three other words from verge pop up in the etymology, vergence, diverge and converge. The best I could find for the meaning of vergence is the turning of both eyes (at the same time) in opposite directions for a single binocular sight. Or vergence has a geological translation as a direction (up dip) in a fold, etc. Diverge means to bend or turn apart, to go in different directions. Converge means to incline together.

Verge List of Use in Quotes:

  • Faith consists in being vitally concerned with that ultimate reality to which I give the symbolical name of God. Whoever reflects earnestly on the meaning of life is on the verge of an act of faith. Paul Tillich.
  • Here, on the river's verge, I could be busy for months without changing my place, simply leaning a little more to right or left. Paul Cezanne.
  • All societies on the verge of death are masculine. A society can survive with only one man; no society will survive a shortage of women. Germaine Greer.
  • Between two worlds life hovers like a star, twixt night and morn, upon the horizon's verge. Lord Byron.

Now the next time you may be feeling on the verge of, it won’t be the eve of destruction.



Mar 30, 2011 9:05am
Interesting and now I'm on the verge of getting busy! Thanks for writing.
Mar 30, 2011 5:29pm
Funny, me too.
Mar 30, 2011 10:53am
Well thank you footloose....interestingly - yesterday when thinking about writing another article....I was wondering about the meaning/origins of certain words. And here, I stumble upon your article! Love it. Thanks!
Mar 30, 2011 5:28pm
You are welcome Venetia - I think etymology is waaay kewl!
Mar 30, 2011 5:28pm
You are welcome Venetia - I think etymology is waaay kewl!
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