Sunday, February 28, 2010

Orthodox Rocks - Part III

Before your very eyes, I am building a post in three installments dealing with the roots and meaning of "orthodox".  This is Part III - the fin de siècle, whatever that means.

The Blog In Review, parts 1 and 2: Dox refers to things that are acceptable.  Ortho means straight or upright.

I can remember being a young lad and deliberately working through "orthodox" in my mind, breaking it down and testing meanings against other words.  We used to sing "The Doxology" in church.  It was a statement, of sorts, of things that we believed in (things that are "acceptable" from the IE root deks).  I thought of orthodontists and orthopedics - doctors who made things straight (from the IE root eredh).  I eventually arrived at the notion that orthodox must mean something like "straight beliefs".  In retrospect, I wasn't far off.

I am somewhat amused that orthodox is either a misnomer or a contradiction in terms.  There are as many "orthodox" beliefs as there are people who believe them.  In terms of churches, the Orthodox flag is flown by the Greeks, Russians, Serbians, and many more - and since they all differ somewhat in their beliefs, it can only be observed that each group thinks their beliefs are straighter than the others.  And so it goes. 

That is my story of noodling around with words based on word roots.  If you haven't read it, I hope you'll take the time to read the "Foreword" to this blog and get the big picture of what the blog is about.  I've also added a very few resources on the right.  Stop by these sites every once in a while and see if you don't find something that piques your interest - like how "pique" relates to "America's most popular condiment".

Friday, February 26, 2010

Orthodox Rocks - Part II

Before your very eyes, I am building a post in three installments dealing with the roots and meaning of "orthodox".  Here now is Part II.

Johnson County, Kansas is proud home to the first family of orthodonture - The Frys.  My youngest son (not pictured here) is only months away from flashing a dazzling smile thanks to Dr Jeremy (remember "doctor" from my last post?).  A few lazy teeth have been set on the straight and narrow.  Orthodontics, Orthepedics, Orthoepics* and the like all share this common IE root, eredh, which means high.  But clearly we were not going after "high teeth" when we went to the orthodontist.  That vampire look is really getting old.

Imagine a row of people; let's pretend they are new military recruits.  They're all the same height, all standing, but some are slouching over, some are leaning over on their buddy, some are standing upright.  The slouchers and leaners would clearly appear shorter than those standing upright.  In walks the drill sergeant and shouts "Ten Hut, Stand up straight you lousy maggots!"  (Drill sergeants are surly like that.)  Now, everyone is the same height - all "high", none shorter thanks to the drill sergeant's verbal orthodonture, so to speak.  That's what an orthodontist does, only without all the yelling insults and with more wire and rubber bands.  Ortho has morphed from meaning "high" to indicating that a thing is "straight or upright".

Another word related to ortho is arduous.  Imagine that mean drill sergeant ordering those maggots, I mean recruits, on a double-time "harch" up a high, steep mountainside.  I think there would be unanimous agreement, among the survivors, that such a exercise would be arduous.  And so it should be.

* Some years ago, the Scripps Howard National Spelling Bee had to skip a word that none of the judges could confidently pronounce.  The word?  Orthoepy.  The meaning of the word?  Orthoepy is the correct (straight) pronunciation of words.  It's all true.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Orthodox Rocks - Part I

Before your very eyes, I'm going to build a post in three installments dealing with the roots and meaning of "orthodox".  This is Part I, of course.

At the same time we moved into our current home a new Greek Orthodox church was being built nearby.  While the rest of the family was looking forward to the baklava at the annual Greek food fest, I had my eye on more substantive fare.  Being a devout believer in the supremacy of Kansas City Barbeque, I devoted myself to building a mammoth backyard smoker.  I habitually scouted for construction areas where large flat slabs of Kansas limestone were exposed.  The good Greeks had unearthed a truckload for me a half mile from my house.  A hernia and a knee replacement later, I have myself a killer smoker in which I can smoke a drawn and quartered pig or 120 racks of ribs, more or less.

Now that I have established this scintillating prologue to my blog trilogy, I should prolly get to work.  Orthodox, ortho + dox.  Let's focus on the dox part today.  Our IE root is dek1 with the meaning of "to take or accept".  A direct descendant is decent - something that is acceptable.  How do we learn what is decent or acceptable?  Well, experience is a great teacher, but history is full of the value of teachers who instruct what is acceptable across the wide range of human endeavor.  The Latin word docere means to show or instruct (to teach) and it is the headwater of all our doc- words like doctor, orginally a religious term meaning scholarly teacher.  Over time, doctor became applied to anyone having earned the highest college degree.  A doctor then teaches doctrines or dogma and points out paradoxes to his disciples (those who are learning what is acceptable through discipline).  (The use of the term doctor to refer to a medical profession is really just the tip of the iceberg.)

As noble a word as doctor is, isn't it interesting that when you alter or change something with an attempt to deceive, it is said that you "doctor" it.  That's not acceptable at all!

Next post: we'll tackle the ortho side of the equation.

While not quite a googlewhack, "orthodox rocks" only gets 160 hits on a Google search.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The Dolphin Brothers

In the late '80s I was busy building a family, watching Thirty Something, and figuring out what I wanted to be when I grew up.  I totally missed the musical phenomenon known as The Dolphin Brothers who are described as having the sound of a "Fashion-era David Bowie" featuring the "classic simplicity of a nice piece of plodding liquorice and some good old plain sherbet."  [I wish I could write like that.]

But enough about me, this is a blog about word roots and relationships.  One of the first words that I learned was decodable was Philadelphia - the city of what?  That's right "brotherly love" (phila = love + brother = delphia).  Isn't it odd that a city famous for booing Santa Claus is called Brotherly Love.  I wonder if they like dolphins there?  They could rename the town to Philadolphia.

That actually wouldn't be much of a change.  The Greek word for brother, delphos, is interesting.  The IE Root, gwelbh, actually means womb.  Somewhere along its travels the g morphed to a d and picked up the delph sound.  Since brothers are from the same mother, they can be said to be womb-mates.  Get it?  Womb-mates, like roommates... oh never mind.

Okay, brothers are from the same womb.  But what about those cute dolphins?  Believe it or not, someone decided that a dolphin was shaped like a womb - an area of expertise that exceeds my knowledge base.

So here's to you, The Dolphin Brothers.  You named yourself after basically the same thing - a womb.   That's why I miss the '80s.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

A State of Inactivity or Insensibility

Today we'll look at a family of words built around the IE root ster1. which comes to us with the meaning of stiff.  Before we're done, we'll see this word relates to barbeque and weapons of war.

How do you describe someone who is stiff and sour - stern comes to mind.  Of course, people like that tend to stare a lot - also from ster1.  Until recently I didn't know how to make great mashed potatoes.  I used to add cold milk which made the mash stiff and it more or less froze the starch in the potatoes.  (The key is to use warm milk!)

Start and startle both derive from ster1.  How "start" relates to "stiff" was pretty difficult to me until I remembered how I start the day - rather stiff, my joints wake up about 30 minutes after I get out of bed.  If some loud noise awakens me in the middle of the night, I bolt upright in bed, stiff as a board. 

Oddly, the word stereo relates stiff. I thought it simply meant "two" - you know, the opposite of mono as all you audiophiles know so well. Stereo is a Greek work meaning "solid". Who knew? Perhaps more oddly the stork bird gets its name from ster1 apparently because of its stiff posture and jerky movements. I'm no authority on the subject so I guess I'll have to go with tradition.

Kansas City's third worst BBQ joint features a dude struttin' with some barbeque in his up-to-date finest outfit.  I have no idea why they use this motif, but that dude a'struttin' sure looks stiff. 
Of course, I guess if times are stark and you're about to starve any kind of vittles is better than nothing, even stiff potatoes.  These words describe conditions that clould lead to you being very stiff and very room temperature. A seldom used word, torpor - a state of mental or physical inactivity or insensibility, describes lifeforms in a stiff state.  I initially thought it was the definition of teenagers when Saturday chores have to be done.  Guess I was wrong.  (Notice how after all those st- words, the s suddenly disappeared.  This is the kind of thing I was trying to explain in my prior post, Sliding Sideways.)

Now, all this brings us to our last word as illustrated to the right.  I have recently become word buddies with a real creative New Yawker who has a fine gift of illustrating words.  This is his interpretation of a torpedo - stiff as can be, piercing through something that looks like my mashed potatoes made with cold barbeque sauce.  (Be sure to check out his blog every Monday when he posts a new image.)

Friday, February 19, 2010

Sliding Sideways

Sometimes, when I write my little posts about words, I imagine you, my reader, kicking the slats out of your bed and screaming, "What?  Those aren't even close to the same ________ (words, letters, sounds, whatever)."  So this post is for all of you with broken beds and sore throats.

Are too!

Let's see if I can school ya a little bit on this one.  Did you read my post on "Our Father..."?  Let's look at the words for father in several different languages.
              Ancient Indo-European root: p'ter
              Latin: pater (pronounced pot-air)
              Old Irish: athir (pronounced AH her)
              Old English: faeder (pronounced fy-der)
              German: fadar (pronounced faw-der)
Clearly these are all related in terms of sound qualities, but there are also quantitative differences that create distinct languages.  Notice the difference in pronunciation between Old Irish and Old English.  That's quite a difference.  In English, we grabbed the Old Irish th, but we actually pronounce it.

A friend of mine does a little doodling under the banner of Pez Martillo.  Ah, Pez.  I know Pez - that little candy thingy, right?  Not unless it is fish-flavored candy!
               Ancient Indo-European root: peisk
               Latin: pisces (like the zodiac sign)
               Old English: fisc
               Spanish: pez
Fish < > Pez.  On their face, there is little similarity between the English and Spanish variations.  But when you look at the whole group together, you see a lot of similarity.  That's how linguists go about figuring out the connections and conjecturing what the Indo-European root was.  By the way, Pez Martillo is the Spanish name of the... hey, you look it up, I had to.
And by the way, I didn't pick the image above just for the perky spokesmodel.  Look at what she is sitting on.  No, not her bum, the package.  Notice the flavor.  In German, that would be spelled pfefferminz.  How is that for changing the letters around?  Hey, wait a minute, pfefferminz. PfeffErminZ

I wonder...

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Armadillo World Headquarters

Once upon a wonderful time, I frequented a place perfectly named Armadillo World Headquarters.  It was sort of a cross between Woodstock and your neighborhood block party.  If you scan the list of artists (and if you're old enough) you'll see that some of the greatest names of the Rock'nRoll era also frequented the place.  This army of musicians created harmonies that still waft around in my head today.  AWHQ only lasted a decade, but what a decade it was! 

But this is a blog about words, right?  Alrighty then, let's go back to that first paragraph and find a family of words to work with.  How about these: armadillo, army, artist, harmony.  To that list we could add arthritis and aristocracy.  Pretty diverse family, eh? 

What do these words all have in common?  Let's start with our mascot, the armadillo.  I've caught a couple of these suckers in the wild.  Trust me, it isn't easy and holding onto them is almost as tough as catching them.  Armadilloes have a shell-like armature (hmmm) that fully protects them when they roll up into a defensive ball.  I would imagine that getting the design just right took a lot of work.  If any piece of the shell doesn't fit perfectly, it could be pretty uncomfortable in there.  And that's the key: fit.

Our IE root today is ar - to fit.  Armadilloes have an armature that fits.  If you are in the army, you'd better have good fitting armor which you pick up at the armory*.  An artist fits sounds or colors or shapes together in some sort of harmonious way.  Our joints are where our body parts fit together and where arthritis can develop.  Aristocracy?  Oh I don't know, I guess they think they are the only ones who fit in!

I'd like to list a few more words, but right now I'm going back to the AWHQ artist list and continue my walk down memory lane.  Maybe I'll find additions to my greatest songs list.

* When I started this post, I had no idea that AWHQ found its residence in a former armory.  Note this from the wiki article on AWHQ: The name for Armadillo World Headquarters was inspired by the use of armadillos by a local poster artist and from the building itself. In choosing the mascot for the new venture, the founder and his partners wanted an "armored" animal since the building was an old armory. The nine-banded armadillo was chosen because of its hard shell that looks like armor.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Matters of Heart and Home

This one is sweet and simple... well sort of. 

A building is called an edifice.  When you build someone up, you edify them.  So you, a rational person, would suppose that the ancient root leading to edifice / edify has something to do with building or structure, right?  No chance.

In this case, our IE root is ai and I'm telling you the truth, it means "to burn".  (Ember and Sicily's Mt Etna volcano are also related.)  Edifice and edify get their e- sound from the ai root.  But that still doesn't explain how we get from burn to build.

Maybe this will help.  I confess that I grew up watching Little House On The Praire.  (I had a crush on Melissa Gilbert).  I remember Pa Ingalls getting up from the dinner table, grabbing his pipe, and lighting it with an ember (hey, remember ember!) from the fire.  Then, standing there at the hearth, he would talk to his wife and children in ways that edified them.  And that's it. (Notice what is behind the girls in the picture.)

Well, let me unpack this for you.  For millennia, the most important part of the home was the fireplace where the home is heated and food is cooked.  Nowadays, there is some demon-possessed machine in the basement that does the heating job and our fireplaces are primarily decorative - but those are only recent "improvements".  The house (edifice) was literally built up around the fireplace or hearth.  And Pa Ingalls vividly demonstrated that family is built up (edified) there at the core of the home - the fireplace or hearth.

Ready for this?  The Latin word for hearth is eides - clearly growing up from our ancient root ai.  There where the burning happens, the core of the edifice is formed and family members are edified.  It's all true.

Grist for the Mill

Did you ever wonder if “Christ” was the last name of Jesus - as if Joseph and Mary Christ had a baby named Jesus?  Or why is *He* sometimes referred to as Jesus and sometimes as Christ.  It really is understandable that there would be some confusion abouth this conspicuous person and name. 

There is an important word in the Bible in both the Old and New Testament: Anointed.  Think "ointment" - you put it on your body.  To be anointed is to have olive oil (the ointment) placed on you, typically on the forehead.  Tradition holds that prophets, priests, and kings were anointed as a way of marking that they were set apart for their special role.  Most Christians believe that Jesus was all three: prophet, priest, and king, but that's another subject altogether. 

The Old Testament (Hebrew) word for "the anointed one" is Messiah.  The New Testament (Greek) word for "the anointed one" is Christ.  Okay, so the Messiah or the Christ is anointed with olive oil.  How is that oil obtained? By pressing or grinding the olive until the the oil runs out.

Historically, we process wheat similarly – by grinding it between heavy stones in a mill.  The term “grist for the mill” refers to the grain which is poured into the mill and ground. I think you can see that grist is directly, and obviously, related to Christ.  In fact, the ancient IE root is ghrendh - not a lot of distance between ghrendh and grind, is there?  The word Christ, as noble a name as Christians believe that it is, simply refers to the process by which the anointing oil is obtained.

It is noteworthy that Jesus' most difficult moment was in a place called Gethsemane on the night before His crucifixion.  There He felt like He was being figuratively ground between the stone of God's will His own human inclination to avoid suffering.  (In Luke 22:42 we hear Jesus expressing His conflict, "Not my will, but Thine be done.")  Did you ever look up what Gethsemane means?  Olive press.  It is your host's opinion that in every way, Jesus lived up to the title Christ.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Both Sides Now

I'm writing this entry during the 2010 Winter Olympics.  The opening ceremony on Feb 12 featured a song that takes me back forty years - more or less.  I can't find video from the Olympics, so please check out this wonderful performance by the song's writer and first voice - Joni Mitchell.  Joni says she has come to see both sides now of love and a good many other things.  An important perspective.

The idea of considering both (or all) sides is deeply rooted in language.  The IE root is ambhi meaning "from both sides" or often meaning "around".   What do you call an animal, say a frog, that can live in both water and on land?  Amphibios (both + biomes / habitats).  What do you call an offical that represents one side to the other?  Ambassador.  (An interesting cousin of ambassador is "ombudsman" - a person who represents the interests of one side to the other.  Colleges, newpapers, etc have ombudsmen to make sure that the little people are not getting steamrolled by the institution.)

Sometimes words wind up with almost the opposite of their original meaning.  Some day I'll talk about "apologize" - a great example of words taking a permanent Opposite Day.  Today, let's focus on ambivalent.  Usually, if you like to use big words, you would say you were ambivalent if you didn't have a preference between two options.  It almost means apathetic.  But, at its heart, ambivalent means to be "valiant" (strong) for both sides.  If you are ambivalent, you could fight for either side with equal vigor.

One word in this family that you'll probably never hear (and definitely never use) is perambulate (per = through + amb = both + ulate = walk).  It means simply to walk around on all sides.  Although you may never use the word, if you were British you'd use a contraction of it all the time.  When you're ready to take the baby for a walk all around the park, you'd get out the pram (serious contraction!).

Now, I've got one more for you and it's a doozy.  Take a couple deep breaths, splash your face with cold water, maybe get a jolt of joe, and let's do this.  Hmmmm, let's see how shall we do this?  Okay, if you get real sick or need an operation, you go to the... hospital.  That's a cool word related to host and hospitality; you see that.  If you can't make it to the hospital what do you do?  You ask the hospital to come to you.  Nowadays, we have fantastic motorized hospitals with tandem rear wheels and flashing red lights.  But before Karl Benz invented the automobile (and named it after his daughter, Mercedes), the hospital came walking to you.  The French call it the hôspital ambulant - the walking hospital.  Now isn't that the way words work?  Hospital is the key part of the phrase hôspital ambulant, otherwise it would just be a pram.  But when we shorten phrases, especially foreign terms we don't understand, we often drop the important part and keep the details.  The next time you get passed by an ambulance going 70 miles per hour, stick your head out the window and laugh haughtily, "Ha, you should be walking."  On second thought, don't.

Fables of Famous Fairies and Blasphemous Bandits

To start this post, I'm going to try and teach just a moment about how one ancient sound (root) can wind up going so many different (and apparently unrelated) directions.  Take the root: bha(2).  Before we discuss its meaning, let's consider what this root could wind up sounding like.  Drop the h and you have the ba sound.  Keep the h and turn the b upside down to p (happens all the time) and you have pha / fa.  Of course, the vowel sounds are always complete wild cards.  Regional accents usually mess with the vowels.  For example, In Texas, if you want your iced tea all the way to the top of the glass, you say "feel it up", but you mean "fill".  So keep an eye on the consonant sounds and just let the vowels come and go as they please.  Our IE root today, bha, will clearly demonstrate this kind of sonic ADD.

At it's heart, bha is a real big talker - it means "to speak".  We speak to tell a fable and sometimes our fables speak of the antics of fairies (characters in spoken fables).  Fables often tell lessons through the fates of the actors (fate meaning a spoken outcome).  A baby just learning to speak is an infant, a guy who talks a lot is called affable, and some people (especially among the elderly) suffer aphasia - the inability to speak.  I think you can see that famous (spoken of far and wide) and fabulous (spoken highly of) fandangoes (no clue!) are also downstream cousins of ancient bha.

When we speak of our beliefs we confess what we believe.  If we speak against what others believe they say we blaspheme.

If we don't like something and want to run it out of town, we ban it and bannish it (see, we dropped the h).  Even though it got banned, some people still seek contraband with reckless abandon.  If those naughty boys call (speak) a bunch of their kind together, we call them bandits.

If we hold onto the ph/f sound and listen for the o sound, we'll discover the very core of spoken word sounds - phonics and phonetics.  Of course, to speak at a distance we need a telephone (far + sound).  If musical instrument sounds all come together just right we enjoy the symphony (together + sound).

Let's Rename The Place After Our Guests

It strikes me as humorous that England is named after an obscure piece of land 400 miles from it's own shores.  Do you remember your world history class in high school (it was the one with the overly flirtatious girl in it - yeah, that one)?  Remember tales of the Jutes, Angles, Saxons and other historic clans of derring-do?  These folks lived in Northern Europe and had eager aspirations to export their culture to distant lands.  The Angles lent their name to a newly conquered colony we now call... wait for it... England.

No small contribution, England and English are two of the most common proper nouns on the globe.  The word "English" gets 1.8 billion hits on a Google search (by way of comparison, "love" only got 1.4 billion hits).  The English language is the second most commonly spoken language in the world with 480 million tongue-waggers.  (China is most common with about 1 billion speakers, but English is the most common second language learned adding another 600 million speakers.  So, yeah, English is a pretty big deal.)

But this isn't a blog about language, this is about word roots.  Let's get to the botton of it, where did those ambitious old Angles get their name.  Stop right there!  Did you notice something?  "Angles"  That's like "angle", right?  You know, the corners of a shape.  Right?  Right!

The Angles of yore got their name from the shape of their homeland (which is now part of Germany, at the northern tip on the Baltic Sea).  That's it.  Note this image of the ancient Angle homeland.  Apparently, the original land was mapped from Flensburg to Schleswig to Kappeln, creating an angular (there it is again) shape on a map.  The people who lived in an angle-shaped land were called Angles.  It's funny really.  One of the most common words and languages on the planet comes from a quirky shape of land roughly the size of New York City.  (It's kind of like asking people from Michigan where they live.  They hold up a hand and say, "I'm from right here" and point to a knuckle on their ring finger.  Michigan is shaped like a mitten - we should call the place Mittenland.  They act like it, after all.)

That's it.  England is named for the people who live on a piece of land shaped like a angle.  But we can take this just a little further - that's the fun of it!  Look at the map again, look just north of Kappeln.  Notice that little bay that is formed by the hook of land on the east?  Hook... Hey, what's that fancy word for fishermen?  Angler, that's it.  Why are fishers call anglers?  Because of what is at the end of their line - an angle.  That little angle-shaped hook lent its name to the whole sport.

Let's see what's left in the botton of the barrel here.  Oh yes, can you think of an angle-shaped part of your body?  Let's stay on task, think about the bottom of your leg - your... wait for it... ankle.  Yup.  Same deal.  Your leg turns an angle to get to your foot, so just call it that.

All these words, from England to ankle, derive from an ancient IE root ank meaning angle.  Pretty straightforward, pardon the pun.