or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Go Down, Moses

One of those words that pops into my head popped into my head today: this time, it was "rush". I don't know what triggered it (Rush Limbaugh? Matthew Rush? Speed? "Subdivisions"?), but I immediately thought, "Rush the plant versus rush the hurry: any relation?" I was quite sure there wasn't, but I had to look it up anyway, and sure enough, there isn't.

The plant comes from the Old English word "rysc", which gave birth to an astonishing array of variants. (The OED says, "The remarkable variations in the vowel of this word make its history far from clear." See? Even the OED can be surprised by language's marked propensity to shove vowels around.)

The hurry, on the other hand, has been around in more or less the same form since Anglo-Saxon times, and it eventually finds its source in the old French "ruser", which in turn comes from Latin "recusare", "to reject".

And look! Isn't that the English word "recuse"? It is! So in a sense, to recuse oneself is to reject oneself.

But that's not really what it means. "Recusare" actually means "to give a reason as a reply", so to recuse oneself is to supply a reason as to why one cannot perform an act. The "-cus-" part is related to our "cause", which to say "reason".

And while I'm at it, "reason" the verb and "reason" the noun are related to one another, which is really to say that they're the same word; you reason something out, and that process supplies you with the reason that you should or shouldn't do that thing. Sometimes the obvious is correct. But for all I knew, those two rushes could have been related, too. Stranger things have happened in the language.


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