or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Dishing It Out

Tonight in an e-mail to a friend I used the word "bursar", which means "treasurer", more or less, and then I looked at it and wondered if it might be related to "bursitis". It didn't seem entirely likely, but the family resemblance was striking. And what did I find? A wonderful clutch of etymologies is what.

"Bursitis" is clearly "burs-" plus "-itis"; an inflammation of the...bursa, probably. And this is just what it is; a bursa is a fluid-filled bodily cavity which acts to lubricate a joint or other moving part. "Bursa" is a Late Latin word meaning "purse" or "pouch". Hey--"bursa"? "Purse"? Practically the same word!

Now, "bursa" led to "bursar", the one who holds the purse, and also "disburse", to distribute money from that same purse. "Disburse" is often misspelled "disperse", which is a valid word with a different, though slightly related, meaning ("to scatter" or "to disseminate"); it's not unimaginable that one might "disperse" money. (It's still wrong, though.) Is "disperse" related to "purse" and "bursa"? Not at all; it's from "dis-", "apart", plus "-spargere", "to scatter".

Now, "dis-" plus "-spargere" looks an awful lot like "disparage". Anything to that? Again, no; "disparage"--which means "to treat disrespectfully"--comes from "dis-" plus "-parage", "high birth", so to disparage someone is to literally demean or disrespect their breeding.

Hey--"-parage" looks like "peerage"! Is there any relationship there? This time, it's a yes; "-parage" is from Latin "par", which has the same meaning as it does in English: "equal". It also has lots of relations in English, such as "compare" and "pair" ("two equal things"). "Peer" in the sense of "equal" or "nobleman" is unrelated to "peer" as in "look intently": that one is instead related to "appear", which is from Latin "parere", "to show" , which has cousins in English such as "apparition" and "apparent". (Is "apparent" related to "parent"? Why, yes, believe it or not. "Parere" means not just "to show" but also "to give birth"; the connection ought to be obvious. I said last September that I didn't know if the two meanings were related, and I've since found out that yes, in fact, they are. I like to clear these things up, even if it takes most of a year.)

All right. I'm done. For now.


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