When we hear abnormally loud thunder what is a common reaction? Thunder has a paralyzing effect; it gets all the attention whenever and wherever it strikes. It’s astonishing to watch the lightning cut the dark night sky and to hear thunder roar. To astonish means to give a shock of wonder, to amaze and surprise greatly. In other words, it means to have a similar effect like thunder. Astonish: “to deprive of sensation, as by a blow; to stun, paralyse, deaden, stupefy.”
In 1500, the initial form of astonish was astone meaning “to stupefy”, which according to OED comes from French estonissant or estoener. French estoner comes from Latin extonare. The morphology of extonare can be deconstructed so the pieces of the word explain its origin. From Latin ex + tonare, where ex is ‘out’ and tonare is ‘to thunder’. Literally the word started with thunder itself. Similarly extonare means “to leave someone thunderstruck”. Hence the word astonish in the form it is now was formed in the early 16th century meaning “bewildered, stunned, dismayed”.
Although the word used to have more terrifying meaning, it meant to dismay. Nowadays to astonish stands closer in meaning to to amaze on the spectrum of words in every-day use. Another root that shaped the word into its present form was astony from Middle English. It was influenced by many languages such as Proto-Germanic stunonan (to crash, groan) and even Russian - stena (a wall). Old English stunian meaning to crash, to strike with a loud sound seems to be related to then effect that thunder creates. Surprisingly the word stone was an influence of how the word was shaped. To be astonished is like to get hit with a stone or by lightning. Astonishment is a shock of wonder. It is like a shock of being hit with a stone. It seems like as the world travelled through different iterations and languages and as a result followed what people associated the word with the imageries that best described the feeling.
In fact, the way the word was derived demonstrates how people’s understanding of the world has changed throughout centuries. Ancient Greeks were afraid of Thor, God of Thunder. Thor represented the uncontrolled power, power of nature and his main weapon was thunder. The way people tried to understand nature shows how little of knowledge people used to have. Astonish was derived in the Middle Ages when people feared nature a lot more than they do now. Hence the meaning of the word used to have a shade of fear and was more terrifying than now. Nowadays people understand the processes of nature and disasters such as thunder. People don’t fear thunder as much these days but rather find it amazing. Therefore astonish suggests more of an amazement than fear.
"astonish, v.". OED Online. September 2012. Oxford University Press. http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/12168 (accessed November 13, 2012).
"aˈstonishedness, n.". OED Online. September 2012. Oxford University Press. http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/12172 (accessed November 13, 2012).
"astonishing, n.". OED Online. September 2012. Oxford University Press. http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/12174 (accessed November 13, 2012).
"astonished, adj.". OED Online. September 2012. Oxford University Press. http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/12170 (accessed November 13, 2012).
"stone, n.". OED Online. September 2012. Oxford University Press. http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/190787 (accessed November 13, 2012).