or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Saturday, April 08, 2006


Yesterday I used the word "salient", and then, in one of those lovely coincidences, I noticed it in a Slate story:

But are there incriminating facts to be gleaned from the more salient passages?.

"Salient" is sometimes used as if it means merely "pertinent" or "applicable". But it actually means "conspicuous" or "prominent", and its provenance came as a surprise to me: it's from the Latin "salire", "to jump", because a salient fact is one that jumps out at you.

Other offspring of "salire" in English are "assault" and "assail", both of which mean literally "to jump on"; the French import "sauté", which describes what's going on in the frying pan; "saltation", which is a term used in genetics for a sudden dramatic change cue to mutation; and Italian "saltimbocca", a delicious veal-and-ham dish whose name literally means "jump in the mouth". (Whether this means the food literally jumps into your mouth or it jumps around in your mouth--which is to say it dances on your palate--I don't know enough Italian to tell you.)

Isn't "jump" an oddball sort of word? Nobody seems to know quite where it comes from. It looks a little as if it might be Germanic--one can easily imagine the verb "jumpen"--but it isn't: the German for "to jump" is "springen". My first guess was that it's probably descended from "bump" as an onomatopoeia, although not a very good one; as it happens, this is exactly what the OED thinks (without the editorial comment about the quality of the word).


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