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  • Stan:

    Etymologists would muzzle
    Most folks’ answers to this puzzle;
    But until I’ve heard the last word,
    To twig from “tuig” is not absurd.

  • Not only is “twig” to be derived from “tuig”, but I’ve also seen claims that the beat generation’s “dig” is another child of “tuig”.”I dig it, man” = “I understand it, boyo.”

  • Your suggested derivation receives some support from Sean Beecher (1991 ‘A Dictionary of Cork Slang’ The Collins Press). To quote from page 103, “Twig, To, verb. To understand. Use: You twig? You understand? Derivation: Possibly Irish ‘Tuig’ – to understand. And note ‘Twig’ – a divining rod for water, hence by extension ‘understanding’. Wright. And also ‘Twig’ – I catch your meaning, I understand (Irish ‘Tuigim’ – I notice). Brewer.”

  • Douglas: Dig ‘understand’ could be from twig, or alternatively from Wolof dega, which also means ‘understand’. It seems to have become popular via jazz circles, but its origin is unclear.

    Colin: Thanks for that reference; I don’t have Beecher’s book, and hadn’t made the connection to divination.

  • Hi,
    Webster’s International Dictionary gives, in addition to the meaning of a ‘small shoot without leaves’, the meaning of to use a twig as a diving rod (searching for water).
    This might be a source of the meaning to understand (suddenly).

  • Hi, Michael. Thanks for that reference. The twig-as-divining-rod may have played a part in the word’s semantic development, though as a non-etymologist I would just be guessing.

  • you are correct ; it most likely comes from the Irish verb tuig ; An dtuigeann tú Gaeilge? Do you understand Irish? Tuigim. Yes (I do understand). Ní thuigim. No (I don’t understand). As Scottish gaelic is derived from Ulster Irish ; it seems definitely to have originated in the Irish language even with the Scottish variation mentioned.