For Thursday, March 31, 2016:
“Words can be like X-rays if you use them properly – they’ll go through anything you read and you’re pierced.”
Aldous Huxley, BRAVE NEW WORLD
“Tomorrow is always fresh, with no mistakes in it yet.”
L. M. Montgomery, ANNE OF GREEN GABLES
Well, good. Today’s mistakes must still be waiting, then. I almost made a biggie as I prepared to write this post – a biggie for word geeks and bibliophiles, anyway. This will serve as today’s public service announcement, then: always check your sources.
As I was going through emails and Facebook with my morning coffee in my usual morning routine to ease me into a state of wakefulness, I came across something from an online friend that set my mind awhirl with glee. It was word-related, and it made perfect sense even as I berated myself with ‘I should have known that!’ because it compared two common words ostensibly with the same Latin root.
My three years of high school Latin didn’t leave me with much, but I have retained a pretty good memory of Latin etymology – at least enough to help me with crossword puzzles, and to figure out possible derivations – so I felt secure enough to start drafting a new post for today. After I had all the pieces in place – a quote, category, tags, the dogs were back in, the first couple of sentences – something made me look up the two words in my etymology books.
It’s a good thing I did. My online friend is wrong. The words are not related. According to my two books,* one does indeed have a Latin origin, but the other is Indo-European, and the words they morphed into over the centuries have no relation either.
So your PSA for today: check, check, check, double-check, and then re-check to be on the safe side. You may save yourself from embarrassment and mistakes, even if not from disappointment.
(Those two words really should be related, though. Maybe I can write something at some point that will make that happen …)
* The Oxford Dictionary of Word Histories: The Life Stories of Over 12,000 Words, ed. Glynnis Chantrell, 2002. As with all things Oxford, this is a prime resource to have on hand. The other one I use is Arcade Publishing’s Dictionary of Word Origins: The Histories of More Than 8000 English Language Words, by John Ayto, 1990. I always consult both. Once in a great while, they differ slightly, or one has a word the other doesn’t.
If you can get only one, though, go for the Oxford, in its latest iteration if possible. Both volumes are easy to read and understand, but – personal opinion here – the idea that words have ‘life stories,’ too, is rather appealing.