Monday, May 18, 2009

Etymology Fun!

I love knowing the origins of certain words and expressions. To me, it connects us to our past; to a people, time and place that are now beyond our reach.

Many of our modern day expressions come from very old sources, specifically from Ancient Greece and Rome.

Here are some of my favorites that I found around the Internet.

ETYMOLOGY OF...


Abacus : "Comes from the Greek word abax, which means 'sand tray'. Originally, columns of pebbles were laid out on the sand for purposes of counting."

Allegory:

"From Greek allos meaning 'other' and agora meaning 'gathering place'. Some of the topics discussed in the agora were clandestine and when people spoke about them they would speak indirectly. That is to say, they would speak about one thing in such a way as to intimate the actual information to the listener."


Barbarian:
"From the Greek "barbaroi, meaning 'babblers,'; from the sound that the Greeks thought they were making: 'bar bar bar bar...'"


Chaos and Chasm
"From the Greek 'chainein,' meaning, 'to yawn'; chaos was thus the 'original yawning abyss' outside of the ordered universe we know."


Museum, Mosaic
"Both from the Greek Muse (museum is Latin for 'Place inhabited by the Muses'; mosaic is from the Greek mouseios, 'related to the Muses'"

Nemesis
"From the Greek of the same, originally meant, 'the act of distributing or apportioning' and later became, '(divine) wrath and retribution, righteous indignation at the breach of rules.' Nemesis was a deity who restores a balance. Were a bunch of shipmakers to launch a vessel without saluting the gods, for instance, this act of hubris might call forth a counter-reaction, as we saw with the Titanic. There was no judgmentalism or divine punishment involved, simply a response from the other world to lapses occurring in this one."

Planet:
"From the Greek 'Planasthai' for 'to wander.'"

Risk: "Originally a nautical expression. The Latin word meant 'cliff', which came from an ancient Greek word for 'root'. The term is cited in Homer's Odyssey, when Odysseus saves himself from Charybdee at the cliffs of Scylla by grabbing the roots of a wild fig tree."


Sardonic smile/laugh: "Another term first used in The Odyssey ('Odysseus smiled in his anger a very sardonic smile'), it refers to bitter or mocking laughter. On the island of Sardinia condemned criminals were forced to ingest a plant that caused their facial muscles to spaz and perhaps wheez due to the toxic effects on their respatory system. This ritual was known through out the ancient world."


Sycophant:
"From the Greek 'sykon,' meaning 'fig'; a sycophant was thus originally someone who makes figs appear. There are a few suggested etymologies: fig smuggling was illegal in ancient Greece, so a sycophant could have been a telltale for a reward; or, it could be from the shaking of a fig-tree, which moved the figs from the hidden heights to the ground where all could see it; or, it could be from 'the sign of the fig,' which is the gesture of making a fist with the thumb in-between the index and middle fingers, which represented female genitalia;--this gesture was used to indicate an accusation of wrong-doing."

Utopia :
"Greek for 'no where.'"

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