or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Many Happy Returns

Jim and I just got back from a couple of days in Halifax, where we met: today's our 18th anniversary. Eighteen years! It's a miracle that anyone could put up with me for that long.

The first syllable of "anniversary" is pretty obviously related to "per annum" or "anno domini"; it's Latin for "year", right? Right. So an anniversary is (no surprise) something that happens yearly. The other half, though; what does that mean?

"-Vers-" shows up in quite a number of English words, and it nearly always means the same thing: "to turn", from the Latin "vertere". "Reverse": "to turn back". "Vice versa": literally "positions turned". "Vertex": originally "a point (around which something turns)". "Versatile": "changeable", which is to say "turning". "Traverse" is a bastardized version of "transverse", "to turn across". Even "verse" gets its name from the turning of furrows in the earth to which the lines of poetry bear a resemblance.

And the "-vers-" is "anniversary" is from the same source: it means "(re)turning", for an anniversary is something that takes a turn every year, that returns year after year. Eighteen times, in my case.


As we were driving back from Halifax this afternoon, we passed a sign for a place called Oxford. Jim, not particularly interested in etymology but smart as a whip, said, "Ox ford: a place where you ford your oxen," which is in fact where the name comes from. But then he said, "Why do you ford a stream or a river but nothing else?" Good question!

It turns out--I didn't know it myself until a few minutes ago--that "ford" is also a noun, meaning "a shallow place in a body of water such as a river that can be crossed on foot or by vehicle". Bingo! "Ford" the noun turned into "ford" the verb in a way familiar to anyone who's ever poked into the innards of English, in the same way that, say, "stretch" the verb turned into "stretch" the noun, meaning "a distance" or "a length" ("we walked for a stretch", "a stretch of open road"). We do it all the time, converting one part of speech into another by analogy or metaphor with no external change, and isn't it lovely?


Blogger Frank said...

Happy Anniversary!

Tuesday, August 02, 2005 10:43:00 PM  

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