Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Just the Fax, Ma’am

We’re going on a wild one today.  Buckle up!   The P.I.E. Root dhe- carries a meaning of to set or put.  Let’s start with a modern word that is pretty straightforward – do.  When you do something, you take action to set or put.  Think of a “hair do” or getting your hair “done” – the stylist sets it or puts the hair in a certain way.  It appears that abdomen belongs in this group – it is a thing that is put or set inside the body.  Another clearly related word is deem.  When deem a matter concluded you put or set judgment on it.  Closely related is doom, when a person or thing’s fate is set.  Another word fits in here – condiment.  “Com” means together. The “di” in condiment is our root dhe-.  A condiment is something you put together with the main thing you are eating – such as putting mustard together with on a hot dog.

The rest of our words today are going to do a little “sliding sideways”.  If you’ve read my prior SS posts, you’ve discovered how letter sounds can shape shift occasionally – a dh sound (where the h is often silent) becomes a ph/f sound.  (And see this post where we saw bhel- become phel-) If something is said to be a fact, it is set, like “set in stone”.  A factory is a place that puts things together.  Not surprisingly, the idea “to make” is one the most common ideas in language.  A benefactor [bene (good) + factor (make)] is someone who makes (or gives) something good to someone else.  A malefactor [mal- (bad)] is one who makes bad for others.  A facsimile [simile (same)] machine sends the same image somewhere else.  An artifact [art (skill)] is something made, usually implying made long ago.

This idea of make goes much, much further.  Suffixes like –fice, -fect, and –fy tip us off to make words.  If something suffices, it makes (-fice) up to (sub) expectations.  Watching  “The Opfice” sounds funny, so we change the p to another f and watch people  working (making) together [op (work) + fice (make)].  An effect [ex (out of)] is a result that is made out of something else – think sound effect.  Perfect [per (completely or thoroughly)] means to set or put something all the way, lacking nothing, and reaching the intended effect.  Affection [af (a variant of ad-, to)] suggests making toward someone else (uh, sorta like “making out”… sorta).  Oddly enough, a confection is the same word formula as condiment (together + make), but has a much sweeter meaning.  When you satistfy [satis (enough) + fy (do)] you do or make enough to meet the expectations of others.  When you amplify [ample (large)] you make something louder / bigger / larger.  When you do something stupid and you try to justify yourself, you are trying to show how your action was just or right.  Many other words such as feasible, feasance / malfeasance, notify (make notice), manufacture (make with hands - like manual labor), orifice (make an opening - like oral), qualify (make an amount), and rectify (make right) all point back to the idea of “make”. 

A faction is a gang made out of a larger group.  Fashion means to make something and has come to refer to clothing (and more) that has been fashioned.  A face reveals the form of something – facet, façade, facial, deface, and surface all carry this sense.  A faculty is a group of people who facilitate learning experiences – hopefully their classes are not to difficult [dif (from dis meaning away or negative) + fic (from fac… make)]. 

Now, did you ever mistake hearing a d for t*?  That’s another way letters in words can slide sideways.  Let’s roll all the way back to our root dhe- and make it the- as in theme or hypothesis where you make or put forward an idea.  Do you remember ever hearing the wonderful word apothecary.  Literally, apothecary means "put away" [apo (away, as in apostasy) + the- (put)].  In Latin, an apothecary is any shopkeeper (who puts away the wares in their stores – “store” itself meaning a place of holding / keeping), but especially those who deal with herbs and other medicinals.  The apothecary didn’t put away his medicines because they were dangerous, but because they were perishable and needed to be stored carefully.  The t/d sound in boutique and bodega (also meaning store) come directly to us from this ancient root for set or put.

*As if anyone cares, d and t are very similar phonetically.  D is voiced alveolar plosive.  T is a voiceless alveolar plosive.  Don't worry, I'm not going to start a blog on phonic sounds and relationships, but their similar sounds explains why bodega and boutique look quite different but sound similar and mean very similar things.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Snowbound and Thinking of Blooms

As I write, the Heartland of all America is buried under about 15” of globally warm snow.  Three major storms in the last month have layered up quite nicely on the World’s Breadbasket.  Although “certain people” love snow, many are looking forward to the Spring when blooming flowers signal a new and welcome season.  Although Winter is essential for the life cycle of all living things, we perceive Spring as a time when life thrives again.

The idea of a thriving life anchors the IE Root bhel-2 meaning to bloom.  (Before we go further, be sure you have read two prior posts – one has to do with how these roots wind up with different consonant sounds, the other is a closely related root bhel-1 meaning to swell, not far off the idea of blooming.)  Like a ball swells when it is inflated, a flower swells when it blooms.  As in other cases, the b in bhel-2 can occasionally flip upside down making a p for a ph_l sound.  A blooming flower is one of the best indicators that a plant, and an environment, is thriving.  Floral and florist are clearly in the same word family.  Healthy foliage is also an indicator of thriving.    One of my favorite plants is the five-leafed Virginia Creeper vine, or as it is fantastically known technically – parthenocissus quinquefolia.  Quinquefolia = quinque (five) + folia (foliage / leaves).  (Although words sometime flip consonant positions, leaf is not related to folia.)  Think of that roll of aluminum foil in your kitchen.  It’s metal, but the foil is as thin and flexible as a leaf.  (In fact, “gold leaf” is foil that is very, very thin for applying as a decorative outer layer of an object.)  A folio is a sheet of paper folded once to make two leaves.  A portfolio is a folio that is portable.

In the
bhel-1 post we discover what the word phallus meant; now, bhel-2 gives us the sounds-familiar name Phyllis (altogether different meaning, foliage).
Interestingly, the words blood and bleed also seem to be related here.  Etymologists suppose that, at a cut, blood “blooms” out.  It could also be related to the idea that blood is associated with a thriving life.  Bless is related, originally meaning to mark with blood, to consecrate.  


Let’s wrap up with blade.  We don’t call grass foliage “blades” because they look like little knives, but because knives look like blades of grass foliage.  (Confused?  Just think about which came first - grass or knives.)  In fact, one particular blade of foliage is quite famous.  Those powerful, fierce gladiators carry a short sword with strong, sharp blades. In Latin, the sword is called a gladius… because it looks like a blade of foliage, most similarly resembling a gladiola plant.  Isn’t that cute; rough, tough gladiators are really just florists at heart.

The following is purely for my own amusement - as if the rest of this is not!  A thousand years ago, my college Latin professor, Dr. Anthony D'Amico, enjoyed telling the following story about a colleague - Dr. Foley.  Foley happened to be just a tad hefty and suffered name calling because of it - Roly-Poly Foley.  Like D'Amico, Foley was always studying one topic or another and preparing folios on various topics - Roly-Poly Foley Folios.  Once, he became fascinated with butter-substitutes and prepared a paper on the topic - Roly-Poly Foley Oleo Folio.  Alas, even in academia, opposing voices rise to be heard and Foley was challenged on some assertions made in paper (perhaps that margarine is non-fattening).  Foley countered with defensive argument and so the argument grew - Roly-Poly Foley Oleo Folio Embroglio.  Thus ended the tale, perhaps, I surmise because D'Amico couldn't append more rhyming words.  Or because he decided to move on to childish puns about entomologists. 

Friday, February 4, 2011

A World Map for Word Nerds

Interesting way to look at the world - by what the nation names mean.  (Click on the map to jump to it on the web and take a closer look.) Political map for comparison.
There is some dispute over how accurate the place names are.  One of the problems with this kind of effort is how far back to go in determining the meaning.  For example, "United States of Amerigo"... yes, the name derives from a prominent Italian explorer, Amerigo Vespucci.  But, let's note the meaning of Amerigo (in German: Emmerich) is a compound word: work + rich, powerful, ruler.  United States of Rich & Powerful Rulers by virtue of our Work.  Let's hear our American president brag about that on his next apology tour!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

We Gather Together

During a prior phase of my life I was considered gregarious – I loved a crowd and wanted to be in the middle of it.  These days, I’m virtually agoraphobic – I don’t like crowds and I’m most comfortable when I’m alone or with just a few people.  In fact, about the largest group of people I’m usually around is my church, SouthWoods, which is pastored by a great guy and my friend, Greg.

Oops, it appears I did it again (again).  Gregarious, agoraphobic, and even Greg all flow out of a IE Root ger-1 meaning “to gather”.  (I believe the gr in group comes from this root.)  One of the first words I learned in Latin was grex – a herd of sheep.  Gregory (sounds oddly like gregarious) means “watcher”… of the grex – a shepherd.

I just finished a funny little book on the first chili cook off in Terlingua, Texas (H. Allen Smith’s The Great Chili Confrontation).  Smith is a great writer, duh!, and uses some seldom-seen words.  One in particular caught my eye – panegyric.  I’ve seen it before, but want to make sure I understood it’s meaning clearly.  You would call the long speech introducing a political candidate a panegyric.  It is a eulogy (a good word) or praise of a person made publicly – in front of a group of people, a crowd, a herd of people.  So when I called Greg “a great guy” in a public internet post, that was a panegyric – and I meant it!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Boldly Going Bawdy, Super Bawdy!

I'm going to keep this legit, but this post deals with some big boy topics which could cause some tittering among the children.  So if you feel the tittering, go ahead and get yourself on over to something more your speed.

Indo-Europeans had an surprising fascination, and thus many words, with two categories of things: a) things that shine, and b) things that appear blown up, like your cheeks when you are blowing out birthday candles.  The root word bhel-2 carries the meaning “to blow, swell; referring to various round objects"  The word also has a more intimate meaning, "the notion of tumescent masculinity”.  "Tumescent masculinity"... do I need to break that down for you?

First things first.  From bhel-2 we get such familiar words as bowl meaning just that, a pot or bowl.  Bulk refers to cargo, literally a “rolled up load”.  Closely related is bale – rolled up bundle.  And again, boulder, a rounded stone continues with the physical imagery.

Both ball and balloon resemble a blown up, inflated object - like your cheeks.  You know that piece of paper you mark on to vote, the ballot?  The ballot derives it's name from an ancient form of voting - dropping small balls in one container or the other to signal your preference.  If you've ever been out to the farm and seen a full-grown bull in all his glory you'd agree the shape is full and rounded.  Of course, there's another indication you're looking at a bull, right?  I mean, that's not an udder under there.  A seldom used term, bullock, refers to castrated male bovine... which now has nothing hanging around... down there.

As I have mentioned elsewhere, sometimes the b in bhel-2 can flip vertically when it goes traveling and we wind up with a root something like phel from which we get folly and fool puffed up, but still empty inside.  Turn that b back up and you'll recognize bellows has the same meaning.

Leaving the seat down... I mean leave the p down and we have the root for phallus.  And phallus is not just a reference to the male apparatus, it specifically refers to swollen, erect penis - which is the difference between Michelangelo's David sculpture being phallic or not.  Ironically sounding like bullock, bollix is how the Brits refer to testicles, and no surprise that they're referred to as balls.  That metaphor is technically appropriate and not really a bawdy term.  Speaking of bawdy speaking, that term derives from comments about phalluses, balls, and other matters best left “private”.  Let's get this out there as well... if someone acts bold, what do we say?  Yup, they've "got a lot of balls".

As it often happens, we're kind of back where we started.  I love the college football bowl season and a month after that concludes we finally get the Super Bowl (yeah, I used the term without permission - come and get me Goodell).  We refer to these significant sporting events as "bowls" because that is simply the shape the facility in which they play - the football stadium is bowl-shaped.  Originally, end-of-season games were played in famous structures - the Cotton Bowl, the Rose Bowl - and so the game itself came to be called by the structure in which it was played*.  (Wouldn't it sound odd, now, if we looked forward to the Cotton Arena and the Rose Stadium.  Same thing really.) Isn't it ironic that our modern day bowls are filled with young bulls in their prime - all swollen and bold.  At one point in the tormented history of sport, it is rumored that athletes would shoot themselves up with the stuff their balls were supposed to make naturally.  You know, to ensure that they earned a ticket to the big bowl, the Super Bowl (oops, I did it again).
[Thanks to Mike Pearce for the extraordinarily great bowl mashup.]

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Nice to Mete You

Shakespeare said, among a few other things, "therefore it is meet that noble minds keep ever with their likes".  He means it is appropriate that like minds stick together.  (We rarely use "meet" this way anymore.  To "meet" someone for an appointment is from an altogether different IE root.)  Shakespeare's meet comes from the root, med-, meaning "to take appropriate measures".  In fact, measure also comes from this root.  The English root of measure is mete.  Although seldom used in common conversation, I am gratified to see that "mete out punishment" (deliver the right amount) gets well over 100,00 hits on Google.

What do we ask doctors to do if not take appropriate measures to heal us?  Wonder why we call it the medical profession?  Hopefully, before Sawbones prescribes arsenic for a hangnail, he will meditate (consider what is appropriate) on his options for treatment.  Some docs are accused of arrogance when we wish they'd be more modest (taking accurate measure of their abilities).  On the other hand, many parents have wished docs would prescribe less moderate-strength antibiotics when the little ones are suffering an ear infection.  (Moderate means, well, the appropriate measure - neither too much nor too little.)

If you are working on a project - whether a work of art, an essay, or a batch of cookies - and the result is not quite right, you modify it.  If something is not the right shape, put it back in the mold and press harder!  Again, we are dealing with the idea of finding the appropriate measure.

If you want to meet (remember, unrelated) someone who lives in a castle, you must measure up to their expectations or they won't let you cross the mote (literally meaning to be permitted).  If the castle is empty, well, you need to find modify your plans for accommodation.  ("Empty" comes from an Old English word æmettig meaning "not occupied" - having nothing to measure.  "Accomodation" is based on the root mode generally referring the measure of the thing.)

Let's conclude with a personal favorite - Diomede.  A native Alaskan, I grew up hearing about the twin Diomede Islands.  (Only two miles apart and connected with an ice-bridge in the winter, Little Diomede is a part of Alaska; Big Diomede is Russian.)  Diomedes is a personal name with a fascinating etymology.  The man Diomedes was a hero of the Trojan Wars.  Because of his excellence as a warrior, it is said that Diomedes received counsel (as to the right mode and measure of battle to employ) from Zeus (please read that post!).  Dio (Zuess / God) + Mede (appropriate measure) literally means "he received counsel from Zeus".

Sliding Sideways Part II

Every once in a while, I like to talk about subjects tangentially related to word origins and relationships - topics I call "Sliding Sideways".  Lookie here, we got another one.


I'm reading a funny little book by H. Allen Smith entitled The Great Chili Confrontation.  This book chronicles the events culminating in the first famous chili cookoff in Terlingua, Texas in 1967.  Accordingly, Smith (no relation) waxes authoritative and humorous about all things chili.  At one point, Smith treats us to a real etymological delight regarding how chili was once referred to in Los Angeles:
Mr. Beck tells me that chili was once called “size” in the town known to him as Lil-ole-ell-ay. “Size” came into usage by way of one Ptomaine Tommy, once proprietor of the largest and best known chili parlor in the city. Ptomaine Tommy served straight chili and an epical Southwestern variation, a hamburger smothered with chili. He had two ladles, a large and a small. When a customer ordered straight chili, he got out the large ladle. When he wanted the other, he usually said “Hamburger size.” So Ptomaine Tommy put up one sign that read HAMBURGER SIZE 15¢, and another that read CHILI SIZE 20¢. Other chili joints followed suit and before long chili was know throughout Los Angeles as “size”. They’d say, “Just gimme a bowl of size.” source
The actual thing, chili, came to be called something related to its portioning, size.  When I read this section of the book, I was immediately reminded of a prior post here at BackWords Blog on the word ambulance.  Originally, an hôspital ambulant  (walking hospital), the term became shortened in English "ambulance" - just the walking portion was kept, with the actual thing, hospital, getting dropped altogether.  Just like chili in Los Angeles, the primary thing - chili / hospital - came to be referred to by an incidental thing.


Let's return to the food world to get one more example.  Cheese is one of the most ancient and common foods in the world.  Across Europe this substance is called queso (Spain), cacio (Italy), Käse (Germany), queijo (Portugal).  These words come from the IE root kwat meaning age, ferment, or sour.  Fitting.  Did you notice I didn't mention France among that list of countries and their words for cheese?  All those words look and sound like "cheese", but oh no, not the French.  The French do a little sliding sideways themselves and call cheese fromage.  Like size and ambulance, fromage refers to the fact that cheese is formed into brick, wheels, blocks, and other shapes.  The French don't refer to the food itself, but to the process of how it is handled.  (Ironically, here is a page discussing the Forms of Cheese.)


These are just the three words that strike me as related at the moment.  But I'm sure I'll be sliding sideways again soon when I discover more sideways words.