I often gather and answer listener questions on Twitter, and a couple of months ago, A.L. Wicks asked, “What’s the connection between ‘wage’ and ‘wager’?” I’m answering this question today, in my Super Bowl episode, because I live in Nevada, so I see what a big gambling weekend, a wagering weekend, this is every year.
‘Wage’ and ‘Wager’
“Wage” and “wager” both came into English in the early 1300s from an Old North French word “wage” that means “to pay, pledge, or reward,” and was spelled “gage” in Old French. The words are closely related, your wages being money pledged to you for work you do, and a wager being an amount you pledge when gambling.
A secondary meaning of the verb “wage”—“to carry out something,” like when we talk about “waging war”—developed in the mid-1500s, probably from the idea of pledging yourself to a battle or campaign.
The Oxford English Dictionary lists ‘wages’ as both singular and plural.
The same root gives us the word “mortgage” with that “gage” spelling at the end from Old French instead of the “wage” spelling. “Mortgage” literally means “dead pledge,” the “mort-” meaning “dead” and coming from the same root that gives us the word “mortal.” The Online Etymology Dictionary says that a mortgage was called a dead pledge because “the deal dies when the debt is paid or when payment fails.”
The “gage” root also gives us the word “engage.” When you engage people in a project, they are pledged to you, and in a more metaphorical sense, when you’re deeply engaged in a book or story or conversation, you are in a sense, pledged to it. Finally, when you become engaged to marry, you’re making a pledge.
In fact, if you go much farther back, to Proto-Germanic languages, “wage” comes from the same root as the verb “wed,” as in “to marry,” because back then, a man would make a pledge, often of money, to take a wife.
So if you’re wagering on the big game this Sunday, don’t go wild and bet your house or your mortgage, and when you look at your spouse and think of your…