Temperance, Terror, Torch, Torture

My old blog, the Word of the Day, is defunct, and I’m getting ready to take it down. Before I do, though, I’m going to repost some of the best words here over the next few weeks. Enjoy!

Temperance

Ultimately, temperance comes from Latin tempus, “time”. No one knows where Latin picked up tempus – most likely from some nearby language, such as Etruscan. In any case, it’s also the root of words such as temple, temporary, tempo, extemporize, and tempest. From tempus came the Latin verb temperare, “to mix properly, moderate, blend”, in the sense of cooking or preparing something to the proper time. This was the source of temper (Old English temprian), and also of the Latin noun temperantia, “moderation”. Temperantia was borrowed into Anglo-French (i.e. the French spoken by the upper-classes in England after William the Conqueror) as temperaunce, which became temperance by the mid-1300’s.

The very oldest versions of the Temperance Tarot card show a figure mixing water into wine, thereby showing temperantia, moderation.

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Sphere, Spirit, Stone

My old blog, the Word of the Day, is defunct, and I’m getting ready to take it down. Before I do, though, I’m going to repost some of the best words here over the next few weeks. Enjoy!

Sphere

Sphere comes from the beautiful Greek word sphaira, which meant “globe” or “ball”. By the time it entered Middle English around 1300, it was spelled spere and referred only to the crystalline sphere believed to surround the world. By 1390, its meaning had extended to its original and modern sense. In Shakespeare’s time, when spellings were becoming standardized, the “h” was added back in and the pronunciation changed to reflect its distinguished Greek pedigree.

Sphere is a ball of energy. It starts with directed energy (”s”) that is completely free (”f”) — perhaps indicating that it can go in all three dimensions. The energy continues for an extended period (long “e”) with great force (”r”). The sound of the word sphere thus seems to imply expansion.

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Sacrifice, Sacrilegious, Savior

My old blog, the Word of the Day, is defunct, and I’m getting ready to take it down. Before I do, though, I’m going to repost some of the best words here over the next few weeks. Enjoy!

Sacrifice

Sacrifice comes from Latin sacrificium, meaning “sacred action” (from sacra, “sacred”, and ficium, “to do”). It was used to refer to the performance of any priestly duties. Since these duties almost always involved giving something to the gods, sacrifice came to mean, first, giving something up to Spirit, and then later (in the late 1500’s in English) giving something up in general.

As for sacra “sacred”, it derives ultimately from Proto Indo European sak, meaning “sanctify”; and it is the basis for consecrate, sacerdotal, saint, sanctum, sacrosanct, and sanctify.

Sacrifice’s primary syllable, sac, is identical with that ancient Proto Indo European root sak from 8,000 years ago. It indicates directed, balanced energy (”sa”) pouring into a container (”k”); metaphorically, then, the energy is the sacrifice, and Spirit is the container. The same phonosemantics work for the rather more mundane word sack.

Thanks to Erik for suggesting this word of the day.

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Poetry, Prose, Praise, Prayer

My old blog, the Word of the Day, is defunct, and I’m getting ready to take it down. Before I do, though, I’m going to repost some of the best words here over the next few weeks. Enjoy!

Poetry, Prose

Poetry began life as the Proto Indo European root kwoiwo, meaning “making”. It entered Greek as poein, “to make or compose”; the derived word poetes meant “maker” or “author”. From there it came into Latin as poeta, “author, poet”, and thence into Old French as poete and 14th century English as poet.

Prose, meanwhile, started out as a compound word in Latin: proversa, from pro (”forward”) + versus (”turning”), meaning “straightforward, direct”. It was shortened over time to prosa, and used in the phrase prosa oratio, referring to “straightforward speech” (i.e. without all that versification nonsense). From Latin it passed briefly through Old French before entering English about the same time that poetry did.

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Om, Pagan, Paradise

My old blog, the Word of the Day, is defunct, and I’m getting ready to take it down. Before I do, though, I’m going to repost some of the best words here over the next few weeks. Enjoy!

Om

From Wikipedia:

OM is a mystical or sacred syllable in the Dharmic [i.e. Hinduism, Buddhism, and other closely related] religions. It is placed at the beginning of most Hindu texts as a sacred exclamation to be uttered at the beginning and end of a reading of the Vedas or previously to any prayer or mantra.

Wikipedia also compares Om to Amen; in this connection it’s interesting to add also the Revival Druid exhortation Awen.

It first appears in ancient Vedic Sanskrit manuscripts, meaning something like “yes”, “verily”, “so be it” — much like Amen. As time went on and Hinduism developed, it came to mean something much more profound. It is variously described as

  • a magnificent syllable for meditation
  • the goal of all spritual practice
  • the utterance of the perfect soul at death
  • the voice of God
  • the mystic name of the union of Shiva, Vishnu, and Brahma
  • the principle of three-in-one
  • the sound of the universe’s vibration

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Language and Gender: the New English Pronoun

Something in the English language is changing, but not many people have noticed it. Maybe a teacher, here or there, has noticed it on one of their student’s papers, and thought it was an error. Or a pundit has railed against it in their column, or someone has written an angry note about it on their facebook page. But the average person is just making the change naturally, by themselves, without even noticing what they’re doing.

A reader of English in 1900 — or even 1950 — would have read the above paragraph and cringed at the horrible “mistakes” I made. It wasn’t a mistake, though; it’s a fundamental change in the English language. You’ve probably spotted it, given the title of this article. If not, here’s the way I “should” have written it:

Something in the English language is changing, but not many people have noticed it. Maybe a teacher, here or there, has noticed it on one of his student’s papers, and thought it was an error. Or a pundit has railed against it in his column, or someone has written an angry note about it on his facebook page. But the average person is just making the change naturally, by himself, without even noticing what he’s doing.

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Words of the Day: Norn, Oak, Objective, Subjective

My old blog, the Word of the Day, is defunct, and I’m getting ready to take it down. Before I do, though, I’m going to repost some of the best words here over the next few weeks. Enjoy!

Norn

manondeltaA Norn is a kind of female spirit found in Norse theology, who can cause great toil and trouble, or bring blessings and happiness. There are a great many of them, but according to Snorri Sturluson, author of the Prose Edda, the three most important Norns are giantess sisters who draw water from the Well of Fate and with it water the roots of Yggdrasil, the World Tree. The names of these three Norns were Urðr (wyrd, “fate” or simply “future”), Verðandi (derived from the Old Norse verb verða, “to become”) and Skuld (related to shall); thus they were all concerned with the future, in one way or another.

The origin of the name Norn is unknown. One possibility is that it is related to the Swedish word norna, “to warn, to speak secretly”, which may be imitative (like mutter, growl, and howl, the sound of the word imitates the sound itself). It may also be related to a word meaning “to twist, to twine”, and may refer to the twisting of fate, although the idea that the Norns wove the fate of the world appears to have been borrowed from Greek theology.

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