or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Monday, August 15, 2005

Ladies of the Night

The Word That Just Popped Into My Head For No Reason yesterday was "noctilucent". Isn't that pretty? It means "glowing at night", from Latin "nox-", "night" (also seen in such words as "nocturnal" and "nocturne", because "noct-" is the combining form), and "-lucere", "to shine", which is also the root of "Lucifer", literally "light-bearing", and "lucid", "transparent", because light can shine through.

Once I had "nox" in my head I had to wonder if it were somehow related to the "nox-" of "noxious". I couldn't see how, but that resemblance was so strong.... In fact, there's no family history at all; "noxious" stems from Latin "noxa", "damage", because anything noxious is harmful or damaging to something.

And then the word "doxy" suggested itself--not that there should be or could be any relationship, but the sound of the word was irresistible. Nobody seems to know where "doxy" comes from. Answers.com thinks it's a corruption of an obsolete Dutch word, "docke", "doll", which is not impossible, because the Dutch were a great sailing people in the seventeenth century and a number of their words made it into English, particularly sailing- or water-related words (no surprise there) such as "keelhaul", "sloop", "yacht", and "dock" (originally "doc", currently "dok" in Dutch), which is related to "duck", "to go under water", "to dive". (And, fascinatingly, the word "duck" referring to fabric, usually "cotton duck", is also Dutch, but from a different root, the word "doek", meaning "cloth".) The OED, on the other hand, thinks "doxy" is just a made-up word from rogues' cant, stemming from the word "dock" because, presumably, a dock is where a loose woman is going to hang out. So whoever's right--my money's on the OED--doxies everywhere have the Dutch to thank.

The "-doxy" of such words as "orthodoxy" is (obviously!) unrelated. We got it from the French, who got it from Latin, which took it from Greek "doxa", "opinion".


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