or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Burning Up

It's been horribly hot for the last few days here; yesterday was 30 with a humidex of 40. A revolting, soggy 40: As I left my (climate-controlled) workplace last night, it was like wading through a backyard full of clotheslines hung with damp blankets. I could feel the moisture collecting on my skin and building up in my clothes with every step.

I know some people would smirk and say, "Hot? You don't know what hot is!" (The weather forecasts for such places as Nevada and Somalia often seem to show temperatures of 50 or thereabouts.) But I'm from Newfoundland, and it just doesn't ever get that hot there. I'm still not used to it, even after having been away from there for over 15 years. (The other cities I've lived in don't get that hot, either. Moncton is a very strange case.) All I can say is, thank goodness for air conditioning, even if it's just a little wheeled one-room unit and we have to decide which room is going to be liveable. (The bedroom or the computer room? No contest: the bedroom. I can hole up in there with a book if I have to.)

All of this may or may not be related to the fact that yesterday morning on waking up, the word "inferno" just appeared in my brain, and as I lay pondering it, I realized that the second syllable sounded just like the first syllable of "furnace". Aha! They sound alike, they practically mean the same thing, and the only difference in the crucial syllable is that changed vowel (without an attendant change in pronunciation), so how are they related?

It turns out, astonishingly, that they're not. Absolutely no connection whatever.

"Inferno" looks very Italian, and so it is, from the Latin "infernus", "underground, the underworld"; it's been an English word since at least the early 1800s (though we've had "infernal" since Chaucer's time). "Furnace", on the other hand, comes from the Latin "fornax", "oven", and in English it's even older: the OED's first citation is from 1225. A couple of thousand years' percolation through various languages, and we end up with two unrelated words that can trick people--well, me--into believing that they're first cousins.


Blogger Frank said...

I've never heard the word "humidex." I like it!

Wednesday, July 20, 2005 7:22:00 PM  

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