or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Friday, October 27, 2006

Making the Move

I've been meaning to mention this for a month now, but you know how things are.

On Boing Boing there was a link to an animated film called Biovisions: The Inner Life of the Cell that shows processes inside living cells. If you're like me, you probably thought that everything in there just kind of floated around, but it turns out that the inner workings of your cells are incredibly organized and complex. The short film is riveting, and the music is rapturous--simultaneously minimalist and swoonily romantic, something I love. Go ahead and watch it: you won't be sorry.

One thing the Boing Boing article latched onto (and which is astounding) is a little doodad which drags a big bag of something or other along a pathway by taking little steps. It has two feet, or footlike appendages, and it really walks. It looks like something alive, but it's actually a molecule called kinesin.

"Kinesin" is just a great name for a molecule that moves under its own steam. The suffix "-in" refers to a chemical compound with no electrical charge: "insulin*", for example, or "chitin". The "kines-" is from Greek "kinein", "to move", which is also the root of such words as "kinetic" and "cinema" (an abbreviation of "cinematograph", once "kinematograph", which is to say "moving picture"). This conversion of "k" to "c" is very common in words that came to us from the Greek, partly because Latin had little use for the letter "k" and generally changed it, as in words such as "cemetery", originally Greek "koimeterion".

Therefore, it will not come as a surprise that Latin words using the same Indo-European root that led to "kinein" contain "c", emerging as they do from "ciere", "to set in motion": "incite", for example, and "resuscitate".

*The "insul-" of "insulin" is from Latin "insula", "island", because insulin is formed in the Islets of Langerhans in the pancreas. "Insula" also looks familiar, of course, from such words as "insular" and "insulate".


Blogger Frank said...

What I find funny about the Latin habit of changing a Greek "k" to a "c" is that there is no soft "c" sound in Latin. Classical Latin pronounced "c" like we do "k." One wonders why they bothered!

Saturday, October 28, 2006 11:24:00 PM  

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