Band, Bend, Bind, Bond, and Bund

By Mark Nichol

One of the joys of researching word origins and usage is discovering facts such as that the five English words formed on the frame of b_nd, with different vowels, are cognates, all stemming from a common proto-Indo-European ancestral verb meaning “restrain.”

Band, meaning “a flat strip” or “something that binds,” came to refer not only to an object with either or both of those characteristics but also to an organized group of people, perhaps from the use of uniform pieces of cloth worn by affiliated warriors. This usage extended to refer to a group of musicians attached to a military unit, from which derived the use of the word for a civilian ensemble. Band is also a verb, meaning “bind” or “fasten” in one sense or “join” in another.

Bend began as a verb describing fettering, or restraining of a person’s or animal’s feet, and the similar action of stringing a bow; from there it came to refer to any turning of a straight line or object and, as a noun, to a physical turn.

To bind originally meant to tie something or someone up, as if to fasten or restrain, or to dress a wound, and later acquired the figurative meaning of “commit,” “oblige,” or “require.” The noun bind usually applies to the figurative sense, often with the connotation of being placed in an awkward situation, although someone may place someone else in a physical bind, as in wrestling.

Bond, meanwhile, developed as a variant of band and describes physical adhesions, forces, and restraints as well as financial or legal documents, plus figurative connections, such as that described in the phrase “bonds of matrimony.” Like the related words above, it has a verb form as well.

The last and least common word in this family is bund, taken directly from the German word for a confederacy or league, used in English to refer to a political organization, especially one for German-Americans, such as a pro-Nazi group that flourished before World War II. There is no verb form for this word. Also, the word describes a type of levee-type embankment often used in Asia; this term, ultimately from Persian, may be distantly related to the other terms.

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3 Responses to “Band, Bend, Bind, Bond, and Bund”

  • Dale A. Wood

    There is a prominent use of the noun “band” that was omitted completely in the above. I will just give some examples:
    A band of criminals, a band of crooks, a band of desperados, a band of gangsters, a band of militiamen, a band of Rangers, a band of paratroopers, a band of vigilantes, a band of alligators, a band of buzzards, a band of ravens, a band of swine, a band of warthogs, a band of wildebeests…
    Also, “a band of swine” could be made up of human beings, as well as “a band of stinkers” and a “band of lowlife”.
    Note that the German word “Gang” is a false cognate in that it means some kind of a passageway, and not a “criminal gang”. They use “Band” for that. “Gang” is tied together with English, via Anglo-Saxon, in the words “gangway” and “gangplank”. “Weg” is the German word for “way”, but in the meaning of a path or a route.
    The word for “way” as “a method” is different.

  • Dale A. Wood

    The organization that was referred to above, but never named, was the “German-American Bund”.
    As soon as the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, and Adolf Hitler very soon declared war against the United States, that Bund was disbanded!
    Charles Lindberg renounced the Bund, and he spent years, then, working as a consultant with the U.S. Army Air Forces, especially in teaching American fighter pilots about techniques for long-range flying from the air bases of the Pacific islands.

  • Cygnifier

    It occurs to me that the verb form of “bund” comes as “bundle”: as in “bundle up the children before sending them out in the cold” or “to bundle” sticks to carry them. This word would also be linked with the custom of bundling as a part of courtship (Pennsylvania Dutch).

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