Cephalogenic

or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

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Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Happy Happy Joy Joy

Calvin Klein's marketing people have got a real touch for picking fragrance names that speak to the tenor of the times, either what people are feeling or what they want to be feeling. There was Obsession back in 1985, then Eternity in 1988, Escape in 1991, Contradiction in 1997, Truth in 2000, and the newest one, being launched next month, Euphoria (which is an utterly brilliant name for a scent).

So: "euphoria", "a sense of delight and/or well-being". The "eu-" part I knew from such words as "euthanasia" and "Euterpe"; it's Greek for "good". The "-phor-" part didn't come as quickly, though if I had been racking my brains just a little harder I would have realized it's the same root as "-fer-" as in "lucifer", "light-bearer"; "-phor-" in an English word such as "phosphorus" means "carrying, bearing" (and in fact "lucifer" and "phosphorus" have exactly the same meaning, one Latin, one Greek).

And then another "-phor-" word popped into my head; "amphora". Since an amphora is a vessel, the "-phor-" part was clear enough, but what about the "am-"? That turns out to be a contraction of Greek "amphi-", "both"; an amphora is so named because, unlike a ewer, an amphora has handles on both sides.

And "amphi-" made me think, of course, of "amphibian"; both...what? The stem "-bian" is from the Greek "bios", "life" (also seen in such words as "antibiotic", "against life"); an amphibian creature is one that has two lives, one in the water and one on land. And, since you may well have been wondering, Latin "ambi-" as in "ambivalent" is exactly the same as "amphi-".

Latin and Greek so heavily saturate English that in modern times we think nothing of combining roots from both languages into one word, so it's easy to forget that when the words "automobile" and "television" were coined, they were roundly reviled by prescriptive grammarians as bastard constructions. "Auto-" and "tele-" are Greek for "self" and "far", respectively, while "-mobile" and "-vision" are Latin. For some reason, we were informed that we couldn't do that--but why ever not? In English, we can patch and plaster all we like. In fact, we do it enough that there's actually a word for such etymological pastiches; they're called "macaronics".

5 Comments:

Blogger Tony Pius said...

In fact, we do it enough that there's actually a word for such etymological pastiches; they're called "macaronics".

I just had this internal dialogue:
"Wait, he's going to drop that word on us and not explore its etymology?"
"He's entitled, I suppose. He did just chase down half a dozen others."
"Not the point. I could have teased out backstory on any of those words; I know them. I've never even heard of 'macaronics.' I bet he made it up."
"He wouldn't do that. Not without calling attention to the fact, anyway."
"Sure he would. I would. And that's not the point. I mean, you can't just end a post with a totally alien, possibly-fake word like that."
"It's not fake. I don't think it's fake. checks 20-pound Unabridged... Well, just because it isn't in there doesn't prove anything. checks Dictionary.com... Er, that doesn't prove anything either! finally uses Google: A-HA!"
"Hm, yes... but look! The unimpeachable authority of some guy's blog gives the etymology: 'Macaronics are named after Maccheronea, an Italian renaissance work with passages of Italian/Latin macaronics.'"
"Problem solved. Can we go back to work now?"
"I suppose so, yes."

Thursday, August 25, 2005 2:27:00 PM  
Blogger pyramus said...

I would never make up a word. I even thought those Sniglets books were unpleasant and pointless. (For those not in the know, they were collections of coinages for things we ought to have words for but don't.)

Perhaps it was a little mean of me to just launch that word at you, but didn't hunting it down give you at least a little bit of fun? I think it did.

If you'd Googled "macaronic" instead of "macaronics", you would have had more success, I think. "Macaronic" is generally used as an adjective, and it generally refers to a piece of text that jumbles languages together, or approximates the sound of Latin by applying suffixes to English words. But it can also be a noun, and it can also apply, as I said, to words that mash two languages together. This is possible--perhaps even inevitable--because English uses so many affixes from so many languages. Look at, say, "-esque", which is pure French: any non-French word you attach to that is going to generate a macaronic.

Thursday, August 25, 2005 6:46:00 PM  
Blogger Tony Pius said...

At this point in my life it knocks me seriously off-kilter to run into a word I've never seen before. English may be big, but I'm a voracious reader. Therefore: violent reaction.

Thursday, August 25, 2005 7:08:00 PM  
Blogger pyramus said...

Hey, it happens to me, too. I think, "No way! That's not a word!" But the language is so big that I still run into things I've never seen before. (I had your same violent reaction the first time I encountered "usufruct". It looks so impossible, so made-up. But if you stare at it long enough....Here's a hint: "usury" and "fructose".)

Anyway, I lied. I said up there I'd never make up a word, and didn't I make one up for the title of my blog? It doesn't matter that it did, in fact, exist before I coined it; I thought I was inventing it. Maybe I should have said I would never make up a word just to confound and irritate people.

Thursday, August 25, 2005 9:27:00 PM  
Blogger jenningsroger64 said...

Calvin Klein people do have a nice trend of naming their perfume. Also the names make the perfumes more attractive.

Saturday, May 05, 2012 9:02:00 AM  

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