or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Friday, December 02, 2005

Everything in the World

We don't watch a lot of television, Jim and I, but we do sometimes watch a show called "How It's Made", because everyone likes to know how things are made, right? A typical show will have six-minute segments on paper, computer chips, jeans, and apple cider, showing the complete manufacturing process from raw materials to finished product.

One show we saw recently demonstrated coinage; first a very large model of the coin is carved, and then it's successively reduced until it's coin-sized, and then the die is made from this. This reduction is done with a device called...well, if you believe the show, it's called a "pentograph". When the narrator said it, I turned to Jim and said, "She did just say 'pentograph', didn't she?" She did.

The correct word is "pantograph": here's how it works (except this one goes from small to large).

I knew the word (I used to own a little pantograph) but I didn't know the derivation, and so I reasonably thought, "Hey, pantomime means copying something and that's a what a pantograph does, so 'panto-' must be Greek for 'to copy'."

Not quite. In fact, not at all. The "pan-" in "pantomime" actually means "all", as in "Pan-American Airlines": "pantomime" means "all mime", and that bonus syllable "-to-" exists because in Greek, "pan-" became "pant-" before a vowel and you need a vowel sound between "pan-" and "-mime". And such is also the case with "pantograph"; "pan-" plus "-graph", "writing", plus that extra syllable that yokes the halves together. That the two have an at least vaguely similar meaning is a happy coincidence.


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