or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Your Worship

Haven't been around much lately, have I? It's been an exhausting week at work and I haven't been reading enough to have spotted any particularly amusing typos or irritating usages.

This is an interesting etymology, though. Slate.com's David Plotz has been writing a regular column called "Blogging the Bible" which is delightful, even for a confirmed atheist such as myself. (It starts here, and you'll want to read the whole thing, I think.)

A few verses later, God lectures Aaron: "You must distinguish between the sacred and the profane, between the impure and the pure; and you must teach the Israelites all the law which the Lord has imparted to them through Moses."

The phrase "the sacred and the profane" rang a bell, and then the word "profane" got stuck in my head: "pro-" means "for" or "before" in English, so "profane" likely meant in front of something, but in front of what?

The temple, that's what. "Fanum" is the Latin word for "temple", so to act profanely is to do something you're not supposed to do in front of the place you're not supposed to do it.

Except for the very rare "fane", a temple", the word left no other traces in English, as far as I know. The archaic but not obsolete "fain", as you may well imagine, is unrelated; it means "gladly" ("I would fain have some mead, good lady!"), and is appropriately from Old English. Fascinatingly, the OED conjectures that "fain" is related to the verb "fawn", "to grovelingly attempt to curry favour". This sense of "fawn" is predictably not in any way related to the animal "fawn", which is from the French, nor the mythological "faun'. which is also from French (they're both originally from Latin), and which is related to "fauna", "the animal inhabitants of a region".


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