What's in a Word?
Pondering word play and power in The Daily Sentinel
By Debra Dobbins
Monday, November 8, 2010
Yes, history can repeat itself.
To make a pun out of this saying, the current creator of Frank & Earnest had to turn a perfectly good adjective into a verb. No wonder students have difficulty learning the eight parts of speech. It is a clever pun, though, so let’s forgive Tom Thaves, who has taken over the cartoon from his father, Bob Thaves.
Used as an adjective, replete means “well-filled or plentifully supplied,” according to Webster’s.
Webster’s also gives a noun form that means honey pot. I investigated that term on the Web and came up with a fascinating lesson on how some honeypot ants keep other ants called “repletes” stuffed with honey and then use them rather like vending machines whenever they cannot find honey in other ways. The repletes are poked until they upchuck some of their honey. Yum!
My source was a NASA blog; it’s worth checking out:
Obese honeypot ants cling to the roof of a nest
Photo courtesy of Greg Hume at en.wikipedia
By Debra Dobbins
Friday, November 5, 2010
Mega is a prefix that means large. It starts out words such as megabytes and megalopolis.
A megabyte is about a million bytes. When computers first came out, most of us considered a megabyte of memory more than we could ever use. Now we generally want at least one gigabyte (1,000 megabytes.) Some people say that soon we'll want even more, so we may decide on storage of one terabyte, or 1,000 gigabytes.
Megalopolis comes from two Greek words meaning “great city.” In modern terms Webster's says it is “an extensive, heavily populated continuously urban area, including any number of cities.”
Below are photos of two megalopolises taken by NASA, our country's space agency. The top photo shows the Eastern Seaboard of the United States, which contains a chain of cities from Boston in the north to Washington, DC, in the south. The bottom photo shows a string of cities on the southern tip of Honshu, a major island of Japan.
If you’re wondering how many bytes of memory it took to store these photos, I’m afraid I haven't a clue!
NASA photo courtesy of Wikipedia
By Debra Dobbins
Thursday, November 4, 2010
Two well-composed photos of wildlife in today’s paper prompted this question: The plural of goose is geese, so why isn’t the plural of moose meese? The short answer: setting.
Setting is a literary term meaning both time and place. When we read fiction, we should know a story’s setting. Setting also helps us understand the origins of words. When and where did they come into use?
Goose has the longer and more complicated history of the two words. Webster’s says that it evolved in a roundabout way from the Latin word anser. (We still have the word “anserine,” meaning “of or like a goose, stupid or foolish,” according to Webster’s.)
The Romans brought Latin words into English in two ways: by conquering England and staying there for centuries and also by conquering Germanic and French people who ruled England at various times, too. Goose actually evolved from a Dutch and German word gans, which morphed from anser. It is why we also have gander, the name of a male goose.
Bill Bryson, author of The Mother Tongue, says the plural form of goose was in use during the Old English period in England’s history, which ran from A.D. 450 to 1150. During that time people formed plural words in at least a half dozen ways.
One way was to change the main vowels into different vowels. For example, mouse became mice, foot became feet and tooth became teeth. Eventually the language became easier to learn when most words were simply made into plurals by adding “s” or “es.” Geese, however, was one of the plural forms that did not change.
Moose came into American English much later and in a vastly different environment than Merry Old England. According to Webster’s, moose is an Americanism that was borrowed from the language of the Eastern Abenaki. They lived in the northeastern part of the United States and were part of the Algonquin nation.
Chances are that the Puritans and many other early settlers from across the Atlantic had never seen a moose before. Having no word for it, they took mos from Native Americans and turned it into moose. It’s unclear why its plural is simply moose. Perhaps mooses sounded awkward and the plural of mouse was already mice.
Goose and moose: two short, simple words that demonstrate our language’s long, complex history.
By Debra Dobbins
Wednesday, November 3, 2010
Smug. That’s how I felt after reading today’s Pickles. Wi-Fi, I thought, is an acronym for wireless fidelity. I congratulated myself on being so tech-literate.
Humble. That’s how I feel now after researching the term. It turns out that Wi-Fi is a play on words from the term hi-fi, an acronym for high fidelity. A marketing firm coined the term for its client, the Wireless Ethernet Compatibility Alliance, the originators of the wireless networking technology. (Now the firm is just known as the Wi-Fi Alliance.)
“The technical term 'IEEE 802.11' has been used interchangeably with Wi-Fi,” according to Wikipedia. I’m glad the Wi-Fi Alliance opted for a term easier to remember.
An acronym, by the way, is a word formed from the first letter or first few letters of a series of words. Radar is a good example. It is created from (ra)dio (d)etecting (a)nd (r)anging.
By Debra Dobbins
Tuesday, November 2, 2010
After she tears her hair out, perhaps Jeremy’s mom can take solace in realizing her son knows what simile is. When he says, “Procrastination is like kryptonite to moms,” he is making a comparison using the terms “like” or “as.” That’s simile.
By mentioning kryptonite, Jeremy is alluding (referring) to something he knows his friend will understand: comic books and movies on Superman, a fictional American icon who has been around since the 1930s.
Kryptonite, an element found on Superman’s home planet, is lethal for the superhero. Bad guy Lex Luther discovers this and occasionally tries to end Superman’s storied career—and life—with it.
Two word parts of “procrastination” hint at its meaning. “Pro” is a word part that means forward, and “crastinus” was a Latin term meaning, “belonging to the morrow,” according to Webster’s. Procrastination means pushing a task forward to another day.
Procrastination is a fault, someone once said, that most people put off trying to correct. For many of us, it is probably worthwhile to heed Ben Franklin’s warning: “You may delay, but time will not."