or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Monday, September 11, 2006

Blue Monday

Yesterday I was talking about the origins of the word "Sunday" and its French equivalent "dimanche", and I had meant to mention that other word for Sunday, "Sabbath". Doesn't it look Hebrew? It surely must be, and indeed it is; it's also the root of "sabbatical", which in its most limited sense is a leave from work taken every seventh year--and doesn't "sabbatical" look like a Latin borrowing from the Hebrew? It sure is.

Monday is, as a moment's thought might suggest, named after the moon, as all the days of the week in English are named after astronomical bodies and/or the gods associated with them, usually from a Nordic perspective. German "Montag" is, self-evidently, I trust, the same word. The French word for "Monday", "lundi", as another moment's thought will will suggest, means the same thing, because it took its name from the Latin word "luna", which is where we get out adjective for the moon, "lunar", and also "lunatic", from the belief that the full moon makes people behave strangely.


I was reading about the atmosphere today because it caught my fancy, and since I didn't really know where some of the names of the various levels of our air supply came from, I had to look them up, starting with "atmosphere" itself, which--the word, not the atmosphere itself--is the sort of thing that flint-bottomed prescriptivists love to decry, a macaronic: a word made up of parts from two different languages. "Atmosphere" is from Greek "atmos", "vapour" plus Latin "sphere", which is just what it looks like, so the atmosphere is a hollow sphere of vapour wrapped around the Earth. (At least English can't be blamed for the macaronic nature of "atmosphere": we took it from New Latin.)

The bottommost layer of the atmosphere is the troposphere, and that one I could work out on my own: "tropos" is the Greek word for "to turn" or "to move", and the troposphere is the layer of the atmosphere which contains all the moving parts--the clouds and the precipitation. Next comes the stratosphere, and although "stratum" is clearly related to the first half, I didn't actually know where that word comes from; it turns out to be from the Latin "sternere", "to stretch out or extend", which you've seen before in "sternum", the breastbone, stretched out across the chest, and also, unexpectedly, in "prostrate", "stretched out flat". (If you are very, very particular, you will use "prostrate" only to mean "lying face down"; if you're lying face up, you're supine. In the real world, you needn't worry about such niceties: "prostrate" has come to mean simply "lying down", whether face up or face down.)

After the stratosphere we have the mesosphere, from "meso-", "middle", and beyond that is the thermosphere, so named because, paradoxically, it gets extremely hot as you rise through it due to heating from the Sun. After the thermosphere....space, the final frontier.


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