What's in a Word?

Pondering word play and power in The Daily Sentinel

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Eggs-ceptional talents

By Debra Dobbins
Friday, January 3, 2014

“Prodigy” means a child with extraordinary talents or capabilities.

This usage was first recorded in the 1650s, according to the Online Etymology Dictionary. The word originally came into English in the late 15th century, the dictionary notes. At that time it meant a “sign, portent.”


Cherish is the word …

By Debra Dobbins
Thursday, December 26, 2013


I’m happy to report a small miracle: My Christmas tree is still upright.

Every December I worry that I’ve secured it tightly enough to last about a month laden with ornaments, lights and a star on top. Stuffing the tree into my car’s hatchback, lugging it into my home, coaxing it into a stand and then securing it are all dreaded holiday tasks. Every year, however, once the tree is up and decorated, I’m pleased I went to the trouble because it is bedecked with ornaments that bring back family memories I cherish.

“Cherish” is indeed a good word for the Christmas season. It’s the time of year we make special, sometimes herculean, efforts to get together with friends and family we cherish or at least to send them cards and letters to express our deep feelings for them. We observe cherished family traditions, ones cultivated over many years.

The word came into English from Old French in the early 14th century, according to the Online Etymology Dictionary. The French language still has many expressions with cher in them, such as mon cher.

The Online Merriam Webster Dictionary notes that “cherish” can also mean “to entertain or harbor in the mind deeply and resolutely.” Perhaps Ulysses S. Grant had this definition in mind when he wrote: “The friend in my adversity I shall always cherish most. I can better trust those who helped to relieve the gloom of my dark hours than those who are so ready to enjoy with me the sunshine of my prosperity.” (Source: www.brainyquote.com)

Photo courtesy of UK Cop Humour



By Debra Dobbins
Thursday, December 19, 2013

“Omnipotence” is easier to understand if one breaks it into two parts: “omni” (all) and “potence” (power). When it came into English in the early 1400s, it strictly meant “only of God or a deity,” according to the Online Etymology Dictionary. It wasn’t until the 1590s, the dictionary notes, that the word took on the “general sense of ‘having absolute power or authority.’”

Two other “omni” words, “omnipresent” (present everywhere) and “omniscient” (all-knowing), are apropos to the season. After all, the jolly fat man manages to wiggle down millions and millions of chimneys at once, and his naughty/nice lists probably eclipse even NSA’s data.

Reading Dickinson’s quote this morning reminded me of one of my mother’s favorites: “We have within us, each one, more of this power than we will ever spend — such misers of miracles we are, such pinchpenny guardians of grace.”     Frederick Buechner, A Room Called Remember

Like Dickinson, Buechner notes the power in each one of us, but he chastises us for not exercising it more. Well, if Buechner were ever to visit the Grand Valley, I would hope he’d be heartened by the paucity of “misers of miracles” here, especially during the holiday season.

Seems to me that many folks individually and in concert with others are working miracles, big and small, in a myriad of ways. Today a photo on page 6A shows Community Hospital employees loading up food and Christmas gifts for The House, a home for at-risk teens. Food and clothing drives are in full swing, Salvation Army bell ringers are out in force, toy bins are filling up, and the list of good-hearted deeds goes on and on. These deeds are all vivid reminders of why this valley is truly grand.

Ladies in red: Sue Buskist and Lynn Lickers take a break from some high-energy bell ringing on a nippy December day. Sue’s loyal friend, Bailey, sports his reindeer antlers. (Photo by Debra Dobbins)


The fab fedora

By Debra Dobbins
Monday, December 9, 2013

While our icy temps may be daunting, they inspire a fascinating array of winter garb. Folks in the Grand Valley have a flair for wearing eye-catching scarves, mittens, gloves, coats, boots, caps and hats to chase away winter’s chill.

Case in point: Palisade’s Olde-Fashioned Christmas celebration over the weekend. It’s worth checking today’s online photo gallery just to see some of the wonderful headgear people sported. Not one fedora, however, was spotted. That would have been fun, because the fedora is such a classy hat.

Though hunky heroes such as Dick Tracy and Indiana Jones have popularized the fedora in American culture, women originally wore this style of hat. The word “fedora” came into American English in 1887, according to the Online Etymology Dictionary, and it came from a theatrical production.

“’Fédora’ [was] a popular play by Victorien Sardou (1831-1908) that opened 1882, in which the heroine, a Russian princess named Fédora Romanoff, originally was performed by Sarah Bernhardt,” the dictionary notes. “During the play, Bernhardt, a notorious cross-dresser, wore a center-creased, soft brimmed hat. Women's-rights activists adopted the fashion. The proper name is Russian fem. of Fedor, from Greek Theodoros, literally ‘gift of god,’ from theos ‘god’ + doron ‘gift.’"

Richard Skaer and Carol Zadrozny were stylin’ in elegant black hats at Palisade’s Olde-Fashioned Christmas celebration this weekend. (Special to the Sentinel/Heather Decker)


Getting close

By Debra Dobbins
Friday, December 6, 2013



French is often considered the language of diplomacy. For centuries, it has been viewed as a language used by sophisticated people. It has become a lingua franca, a language that has transcended its national borders and spread throughout the world.

We have taken the French word rapprochement into English to describe the establishment of friendly relations between two nations. It came into English in 1809, according to the Online Etymology Dictionary, which adds that literally it meant “’a bringing near,’ from rapprocher ‘bring near,’ from re- ‘back, again.’"  In today's paper, it is used in an editorial on relations between the United States and Iran.

The world has just lost South African leader Nelson Mandela. Among his many legendary accomplishments, “Madiba” surely can be considered a master of rapprochement.

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