Thursday, 14 August 2008

Etymological Musings

Sometimes in the summer (oh, sweet summertime, where have you flown.... school bells tinkling in my near future...and I am SOOOOO NOT ready) I find time to wander through the blogs of folks who understand and explain word origins. Recently I came across a couple of interesting words that I thought I would share. I meant to do this a couple of days ago, but got busy and put it off... and one of the words was about that very thing.
Everyone knows the word procrastinate, but not everyone know that the word literally means to move forward to tomorrow. The Latin root, I learned, is procrastinare, and the pro prefix means forward. Crastinus means tomorrow, and together they represent that evil practice of putting off today's job until tomorrow. Cicero, in an attack on Mark Antony said, "... slowness and procrastination are hateful". But I came across an even more appropriate term for my summer behavior,perendinate
which means to put something off until the day after tomorrow, which is the literal interpretation of perendie. There is a lot more about procrastination and its interpretation in many languages and cultures at Ben Zimmer's SLATE.
If you watched the National Spelling Bee, you might have heard another interesting word, hyphaeresis, which is an example of what it means. It is the name for the act of leaving out a letter or syllable in a word; in hyphaeres the omitted letter is the "o" from hypo, which is Greek for below, as in hypodermic (below the skin) and hypotenuse, the longest side of a right triangle which literally means "to stretch below".
As long as I am amusing you with interesting words (I AM amusing you...right???) I will add one more.."stamina". OK, you know what stamina means, or at least how it is commonly used now...but do you know how it is related to stamin, the sexual part of a flower (Yeah, I said the magic word and NOW you are interested..)? Here, said better than I could ever do, are the words of the original blogger
"Before stamen meant "The male or fertilizing organ of a flowering plant," it meant 'the warp in an upright loom' (the Latin word stāmen is from the Proto-Indo-European root *stā- 'stand'), and from there it came to mean (in the OED's words) "The thread spun by the Fates at a person's birth, on the length of which the duration of his life was suppose[d] to depend. Hence, in popular physiology, the measure of vital impulse or capacity which it was supposed that each person possessed at birth, and on which the length of his life, unless cut short by violence or disease, was supposed to depend.' (1709 Tatler No. 15.1 'All, who enter into human life, have a certain date or Stamen given to their being, which they only who die of age may be said to have arrived at'; 1753 L. M. Accompl. Woman I. 246 "Bad example hath not less influence upon education than a bad stamen upon the constitution.") Hence the plural stamina meant "The congenital vital capacities of a person or animal, on which (other things being equal) the duration of life was supposed to depend; natural constitution as affecting the duration of life or the power of resisting debilitating influences" (1701 C. WOLLEY Jrnl. New York 60 'Such as have the natural Stamina of a consumptive propagation in them'; 1823 GILLIES Aristotle's Rhet. I. v. 180 "If the stamina are not sound, disease will soon ensue"), and finally the modern sense "Vigour of bodily constitution; power of sustaining fatigue or privation, of recovery from illness, and of resistance to debilitating influences; staying power" (1726 SWIFT Let. Sheridan 27 July Wks. 1841 II. 588/1, "I indeed think her stamina could not last much longer when I saw she could take no nourishment"). This was originally construed as a plural, but by the nineteenth century careless writers were using it as a singular (1834 M. SCOTT Cruise Midge viii, 'Why, Sir Oliver, the man is exceedingly willing,.. but his stamina is gone entirely'), and this rapidly became standard."

2015:  As a footnote, my brother-in-law worked for several years in the Pondicherry area of India and he says it was common there for folks to use the word "prepone" as a variant of postpone, to move a meeting forward.  Makes perfect sense if you realize that the "pone" is from the Latin "ponere", to put or place, so prepone, just means to put it forward.  A check of the OED suggests that this is only used in India, but it seems like a perfectly good word.  Tell  your students you want to prepone their test two days.  That should get their interest in vocabulary pumping. 
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