Sometimes I notice a relationship between two words that do not in fact share etymology or morphology. When I make such a connection, I worry about whether I should persist in using it to help me increase my vocabulary or avoid using it because it doesn’t reflect reality. Today’s example involves noticing that both verwirrt and geirrt have »irr« inside them. To me, the meanings of “confused” and “mistaken” seem quite similar and so it made sense for these words to have a common morpheme. That is not, however, the case. The »irr« in verwirrt comes from the stem wirr which also means “confused,” while the »irr« in geirrt comes from irre, which means “mad” (in the sense of “insane”), via the verb irren – “to err.” According to Duden online, the roots of these two words are also different.
So, what do I do with this discovery? It feels helpful to me to see them as related and yet I worry what confusion it might bring or what mistakes I might be led to make, given the relationship exists in my head and not in the structure or history of German. And mistakes are probably very likely as according to dict.cc, there are 371 words which have »irr« as a component and 61 of these contain »wirr.« Many of the words with »irr« are unrelated to the concepts of confusion and error, for example, das Geschirr – “dishes” – while others like der Irrgarten – “maze” – do share some components. And the same goes for »wirr.« Das Geschwirr is a “buzz” or a “whirring” sound, while wirrköpfig means “muddleheaded.”
My sense is, therefore, that I should tread somewhat carefully when the commonalities I notice comprise only a few letters/sounds – as in the case of »irr« – while feeling on firmer ground with those such as (der) Zufall appearing in the adjective zufällig – in this latter case, it is no “accident” that “coincidence” and “random” share components.