or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Now See Here

In the comments to yesterday's posting, Tony Pius asks this intriguing question:

Which, I think, raises the question: Why "-spec-" instead of "-vis-"? Sure, you could probably come up with a dozen or so "-vis-" words off the top of your head, but my hunch is that they're greatly outnumbered by "-spec-" words.

What he's talking about is that we have two massive groups of words from Latin which mean more or less the same thing: the first group is from the word "spectare", "to watch", and the second is from "videre", "to see". (The second group contains such wide-flung words as "video", "view", "voyeurism", and "envy".)

My first thought after reading the comment was, "That's my hunch, too." And so to check the hunch, I typed both roots into www.morewords.com, which lets you search for Scrabble words and the like, using an asterisk for unknown or unimportant letters. "*Spec*" produced 352 hits, virtually all of which are related in some way to "spectare". "*Vis*, on the other hand, produced more than 500 hits, which means Morewords won't show them to you--you have to narrow the search down, usually by adding another letter or two.

Does this mean we're wrong? I don't think so. "*Vise*" gives 78 matches, most of which are accidents of spelling, unrelated to "videre" in any way; "pavise", for example, or "vivisection". (Some of them are relatives, though such as "advise", which originated in "videre" and wound its way through Latin "visum", "seeming", and then French "avis", which still means "opinion" in that language.)

Likewise, "*visi*" gives 126 matches, some of which are offspring of "videre" (such as "revision", visit", and "visible") by many of which aren't (mostly words related to "division", which is from Latin "dividere"). "*Visa*" leads to 41 words, some "videre"'s children ("visa" and "visage", for example) but most not ("devisal" and "ovisac", for starters).

I think it's safe to say that although the sum of "-vis-" words may be greater than the "-spec-" family's head count, "spectare"'s descendants outnumber "videre"'s--or, at best, they're neck and neck.


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