or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Monday, May 09, 2005

Free Association 2

I swear, the next time I see "pour over", as in "she poured over her biology notes", I'm going to throw something.

It's "pore over". It's been "pore over" since the fifteenth century, "pore", in this instance, being etymologically unrelated to both the pores in your skin and to the word "pour". To pore over means to examine closely. But the wrong form is so prevalent that people have concocted a folk etymology for it: "pour over", as in "pour oneself into one's task". It's wrong. It's also, as folk etymologies tend to be, kind of stupid.


Which of the words "skim" or "scan" is a near-synonym of "pore over"? Trick question, right? "Skim" and "scan" both mean the same thing--to quickly peruse a document. Right?

Wrong. Wrong wrongity wrong. They're opposites. To skim does, in fact, mean to quickly read something over. But to scan means to read closely. They're used as synonyms, but they aren't. Or perhaps I ought to say that they weren't, but are, unfortunately, becoming so.


I'm sure I'm not the only person who gets a little peeved at the expression "skim milk".

There's no reason for it, I know. I'm just being silly. We've lost the adjectival ending from such expressions as "ice cream" and "ice water", both of which should be--or at least used to be--an adjective-noun phrase using the adjective "iced". The same thing is happening with "iced tea", but I'm not giving that one up without a struggle. It just doesn't look right to me. Same with "skim milk". And don't get me started on the Americanism "whip cream". Yuck. Is, was, and forever shall be--must be--"whipped cream".


The Milky Way is so called because to the naked eye--that is, the naked eye unbeclouded by external light sources--it appears milky, a white river running through the sky. The Milky Way is, of course, a galaxy, which is any massive aggregation of stars. It may interest you to know that the Middle English name for the Milky Way was "galaxie". And where did that word come from? From "galakt", the Greek word for "milk". (We have a clutch of "galact-" words in English, all lesser-used except for the adjectival form of "galaxy", "galactic", including "galactose", a milk sugar, and "galactogogue", a substance which stimulates the production of milk in a female. The suffix "-gogue" is from the Greek "agogos", "leading". A demagogue was originally one who led the people; an emmenogogue is a substance which stimulates--leads--the process of menstruation; and a synagogue is an assembly of people, literally something which leads together, "syn-" being the same suffix as the one we use for "synthesize" and "syntax".)

Then the Latin language cribbed "galakt" and reduced it to "lact-", which is the root of "lactate", "lactose", and a handful of other milky words. "Milk" itself comes from the Old English word "milc", which is clearly related to the Germanic "milch". So, unsurprisingly, English has three different strands of words which all lead to the same idea. No wonder its vocabulary is an embarrassment of riches.


Blogger lisalohmeyer said...

The verb form "pore" comes from the Middle English verb "pouren". I don't know the history of the verb form "pore" vs the verb form of "pour". I really think that it is more logical to have a noun "pore" and a verb of "pour". Structure, English? god forbid.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007 1:47:00 PM  
Blogger Fool said...

Thanks! I'm writing ... and google searching has replaced my dictionary ... Easier to pore over (thank you) ... Now, to "pore myself" back into my work...!


Tuesday, April 15, 2008 2:19:00 PM  
Blogger Fool said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008 2:19:00 PM  
Blogger MalaChi said...

The one that always annoys me is 'term of phrase' instead of 'turn of phrase'.

I've seen this in magazines and newspapers and it makes me want to weep.

Friday, September 10, 2010 8:59:00 PM  
Blogger pyramus said...

I've never seen "term of phrase" before. THANK GOD.

I have, however, seen "neck in neck" and "doggy-dog" (instead of "neck-and-neck" and "dog-eat-dog"). UNFORTUNATELY.

This is what happens when people don't read. They mis-hear something, never stop to think about what it might actually mean, and eventually write down their mistake.

Saturday, September 11, 2010 9:20:00 AM  

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