or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Show and Tell

I like firm answers, absolutes, definitiveness. I like to know what's what. I have a million opinions and I'll share them at the drop of a hat. So you can imagine that it bothers me a little when I can't find out a conclusive answer to something.

I ran across the word "transparent" and it occurred to me that I'd always wondered if it was related in any way to "parent" but had never bothered to look it up. So I did, and I still don't know, not for one-hundred-per-cent sure.

The "parent" in "transparent" is from Latin "parere", "to show" (which is also the source of "apparent"). "Parent" itself is also from Latin "parere", but here's the catch: it's pronounced differently, and it has a different meaning, "to give birth to". Now, it's entirely possible that the two words, though pronounced differently, are related; we have many examples in English, such as "record" the noun and "record" the verb. It's also clear that if you squint hard enough, you can see a relationship between "to show" and "to give birth to". So I'm willing to hazard a guess that the two words are, in fact, related. But I don't know. And that bothers me.

However, here's something I do know; the "parent" of "parenteral" is entirely unrelated. It's actually Greek: "para-", meaning "beside", plus the "-enter-" of "gastroenterologist", meaning "intestine", plus the standard English suffix "-al", meaning "of" or "related to". Parenteral nutrition is that which is infused into the body and bypasses the stomach.

All right, then: "parenthesis"--"parent" or not? You probably guessed not, and you'd be right. It looks sort of Greek, and so it turns out to be: it's "para-" again plus "-en-", "in", plus "-tithenai", "to put". So parentheses are, as literally as possible, things you put something in that goes beside something else.

Doesn't "tithenai" make you think of "tithe"? And isn't it logical that the two words would be related, since a tithe is something you put into the collection basket? Alas, it's just another of those wonderful coincidences: "tithe" is unrelated to the Greek, and is actually a variation of "tenth", because a tithe is an offering of the tenth part of something. ("Tithe" is from a very old Germanic word, "tehun", that's the source of both our word "ten" and German "zehn", with the same meaning; it's readily obvious how both words could have evolved from it, particularly when you know that in German, "z" is pronounced "ts".)


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