or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Monday, October 23, 2006

Show Me Love

As I have said before and will no doubt have cause to say again, I used to be a proofreader and I was really good at it because misspelled words just jump out at me, highlighted in neon yellow.

In the comments section to a recent Project Rungay posting, someone misspelled "diaphanous" as "diaphonous". No big deal: it's not a usual word and it's not a professional writer making the mistake. I noticed because, one, it's a typo which of course showed up on my internal radar screen, and two, the "-phon-" syllable is obviously wrong in the context--it's from Greek "phone", "sound", and if you know that you can instantly tell that "diaphonous" must be wrong.

But what about "diaphanous" itself? I didn't know where the "-phan-" syllable might come from, so of course I looked it up, and it turns out that the source is the Greek word "phainein", "to show".

Looking at "-phan-" again, it was obvious that it was also at the root of "cellophane", a former trade name that became a common noun: the "cell-" is from the cellulose which is used to make the product, and the "-phane" is from that Greek word. (What looks like "cello-" in "cellophane" isn't: the "-o-" is just there for purposes of euphony, as is the "-e" at the end. The musical instrument known as the cello is actually called a violoncello, and that name come from "violone", the Italian word for "violin", plus "-cello", a diminutive.) (I briefly thought that the "-phane" of "cellophane" make "pane" a relative of "phainein": after all, both cellophane and a pane of glass are transparent, the better to show you things. However, "pane" is actually related to "panel", which makes a lot more sense.)

Looking up "*phan*" on Morewords, I found, among a bunch of dead ends such as "orphan", the word "sycophant". Surely, I thought, that has to be an offshoot of "phainein". And it is, in a way I never could have guessed.

In Answers.com's memorable formulation, a sycophant is a servile self-seeker who attempts to win favor by flattering influential people. This comes from Greek "sycophanta", "informer, slanderer"; the second half is indeed from "phainein", but the first half is from "sukon", "fig"! Sycophancy is literally the showing of (stolen or illegally exported) figs: to be a sycophant is to be someone who shows you where the figs are by way of currying favour.

A perfume company called Diptyque has a scent called Philosykos: I had never really thought too hard about the name before, but know I know it means "the love of figs", a fitting name for a bone-dry, fig-scented fragrance.


Blogger Tony Pius said...

Another for Salon.com's "need for an editor" file, from Broadsheet ("The politics of veiling"):

That surprising experience is why I'm receptive, though limitedly, to Yvonne Ridley's Washington Post Op-Ed about her complete 360 on the veil.

360 degrees make a circle, folks. If you do a 360, you're still going in the same direction afterward.

I have a mathematical background. This may therefore loom larger on my peeve radar than on yours.

P.S. "Limitedly"?

Tuesday, October 24, 2006 2:09:00 PM  

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