What's in a Word?

Pondering word play and power in The Daily Sentinel

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Limo optional

By Debra Dobbins
Tuesday, March 25, 2014

While we might think of a limousine as an all-American vehicle, seen conveying Hollywood stars and political bigwigs, we can thank the French for the word. It came into English in 1902, according to the Online Etymology Dictionary, meaning an “enclosed automobile with an open driver's seat.”

The dictionary explains that the name came from a region in central France called Limousin. That name was  “originally an adjective referring to its chief city, Limoges, from Latin Lemovices, name of a people who lived near there, perhaps named in reference to their elm spears or bows.”

A limo ride can be fun, but for me it's not a necessity. Rather, I quite agree with Oprah Winfrey: “Lots of people want to ride with you in the limo, but what you want is someone who will take the bus with you when the limo breaks down.”


Illustration special to the Sentinel

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A priceless passport

By Debra Dobbins
Tuesday, March 18, 2014

A teenaged friend now has her first passport and is excitedly anticipating a trip to Italy soon. I'm pleased she's going – not only for her sake, but also for the sake of our country. Since she's well-educated, exquisitely polite and quite articulate, I believe she'll make a wonderful young ambassador for the United States.

The word “passport” came into English in the late 15th century, according to the Online Etymology Dictionary. It signified “authorization to enter or depart from a port,” the dictionary notes, adding that the word comes from “French passeport, from passer ‘to pass’ + port ‘seaport.’”

I look forward to having coffee with my friend upon her return and hearing about her trip. Maybe then I'll mention this quote by Malcolm X: “Education is the passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today.”

I bet she'll agree.

 

Illustration special to the Sentinel

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Alluring alliteration

By Debra Dobbins
Friday, March 14, 2014

Oh, please don't! Such lively alliteration should be given free license …

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Strengthening a blade

By Debra Dobbins
Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Forte” comes to us from French. Nowadays it means someone's strong suit, skill or talent. (Mine is procrastination — difficult to maintain, but I manage.)

The word is often pronounced FOR tay. The more correct pronunciation, though, is simply as one syllable: fort. (Using the first pronunciation more precisely refers to the musical term that comes to us from Italian. It means loud. )

I learned today that this abstract idea of strength derives from a concrete term. The forte in the blade of a sword is the section running from the hilt to the middle; it's considered the blade's strongest part.

Both the French and the Italians took the word from the Latin word fortis. That meant brave, strong, powerful and courageous, according to the Latin Dictionary at wikidot.com.

It's tempting to discuss the various forms of fortis, depending on gender, number and case, but doing so would be far too pedantic on such a bright, sunshiny day. I'll somehow force myself to procrastinate, leave that explanation for another time and refuse to be offended upon hearing any sighs of relief.

Illustration special to the Sentinel

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Daft, not deft

By Debra Dobbins
Monday, March 10, 2014

“Deft” means to be “skillful in a quick, sure and easy way; dexterous,” according to Webster's. Courtesy of Cambridge Dictionaries Online, here are some examples of “deft” in sentences:

“She answered the journalist's questions with a deft touch.
He's very deft at handling awkward situations.”

Yesterday I was not deft. In fact, I was quite close to being daft. (Those who don't know the definition of “daft” may look it up for themselves; I can't bear to define it today.) My excuse for the temporary aberration from my usually rational self was the fact that we “sprang forward.” My internal clock is still adjusting.

I can take slight consolation in knowing that “deft” and “daft” come from the same Old English word “(ge)dæfte,” which meant mild or gentle. (As with other words, minor changes in spelling led to major differences in meaning.) I would like to think I was at least (ge)dæfte yesterday.

Now, with a full Monday workload, there's no time for daftness and even being (ge)dæfte is looking iffy. Judging by my typos, I've yet to be deft. I definitely hope, though, that “brighter” days lie ahead.

Illustration special to the Sentinel

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