|Comedy of Errors|
Shakespeare Santa Cruz, 2011
But closer inspection shows that the program notes only say that the play may well be a pun on the Latin word errare, to wander. Which leaves me as much in the dark as ever. If error doesn't come from errare, where does it come from?
I'm a bit stuck on this one. 'Error' does apparently come from the Old French error, which meant mistake, flaw, defect and, interestingly, heresy. It derived from the Latin erro 'to wander, stray or rove'. The Online Etymology Dictionary tells us that most Indoeuropean languages take their word for error from the sense of wandering or straying, but that the Irish word for error is dearmad, which comes from dermat, "a forgetting". An interesting difference.
Another interesting thing is that the Germanic languages seem to have taken that original PIE base *ers- and turned it into words like ierre (Old English) and ire (Old Frisian) and irre (Old High German), all of which have at least one meaning of "angry". The Online Etymological Dictionary has it that this comes from the Germanic notion of anger as "straying" from normal composure. Hmm.
Now none of this is too confusing, but when you think, as I did, that the word 'errant' must come from the same sense, you get your comeuppance fast. Here I was thinking of all those lovely knights errant, wandering around on what I supposed were their knightly errands. But it seems that errant in English comes from the fusion of two words in old French, both stemming from different forms of errer, one having to do with wandering and the other with, well, erring. In English, most of the wandering meaning stuck with 'errant' and much of the second meaning went with the word 'arrant'.
I didn't even think I knew the word 'arrant' until I stepped away from this post for a bit and realized that I did of course know the phrase 'arrant knave'. What's fascinating is that although an arrant knave and a knight errant sound very different to our ears now, in fact, since knight originally comes from Old English cniht "boy, youth, servant", and knave originally comes from Old English cnafa, "boy, servant", you have quite a doubling over and entwining of wandering, mistaken identities.
In fact,what you have is The Comedy of Errors.