or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Let's All Chant

At work today, doing a fairly mindless and repetitive task, I idly wondered why "descant" and "decant" were unrelated. (I don't know which of the words popped into my head, or why; something must have triggered one of them, but since I was mindlessly working, I don't know what that trigger could be.) I knew that the "-cant" in "descant" was related to "chant", which is to say "sing" (which also shows up in the French verb "chanter" and Italian "canto", among other places. as they all emerge from Latin "canere", "to sing"), but I couldn't place the same syllable in "decant"; all I knew is that it couldn't be related, because that would be ridiculous.

Instead, the syllable comes from a place I never would have expected. Remember last October when I wrote about the epicanthic fold, and was baffled by the fact that Greek had a word, "kanthos", meaning the angle at the meeting of the eyelids? Well, the Romans filched the word from the Greeks, naturally transmuting it into "canthus", which for them had the same meaning, but over time also came to mean, logically enough, a rim, as of a wheel or an urn, and so to decant something is to pour it over the rim into another container. Isn't that great?

"Enchant", by the way, and "incantation" are both related to "canere", because an incantation, or an enchantment, is a spoken, and possibly sung, magical spell.


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