or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Monday, December 04, 2006

Something To Talk About

Yesterday I used the word "ineffable" (and I meant it, too), and it suddenly struck me as being a very interesting word. I didn't know just how interesting until I looked into it.

"Ineffable" means "incapable of being expressed": so wonderful that words fail you. It's Latin: the "in-" means "not", predictably enough, the "-e-" is an abbreviation of "ex-", "out", and the rest comes from "fari", "to speak".

Well, as soon as I saw that, I thought of another word that I'd read the derivation of some time ago. As I noted a year and a half ago, "infantile" comes from Latin "infans", "unable to speak", and as soon as I discovered that "fari" means "to speak", I put two and two together and deduced that "infant" must also come from "fari", which it, of course, does: "fans" is the present participle of "fari".

"Fari" is a member of an enormous family of words. Latin "fari"/"fans" gives us "fable" (a spoken story) and therefore "fabulous", "affable" ("easy to speak to"), and "fate", something spoken by the gods, among others. (Answers.com's listing for "confabulate", another "fari" relative, contains the following definition: "To fill in gaps in one's memory with fabrications that one believes to be facts." One would almost think that "confabulate" and "fabrications" were cousins, but they're not: "fabricate" comes from Latin "fabricari", "to make", which also gives us "fabric", of course, and, less expectedly,"forge".)

With a quick change of vowels, "-fans" becomes Greek "phonein", "to speak", which has many offspring in English: "phonetic", "telephone", "symphony", and "prophet", among others. A consonantal change from "f" to "b" is, as I've noted before, common in words making their way from Latin to Germanic, and that change gave us such words as "ban" and "banish", which accompanied a change in meaning from "speak" to "speak officially".


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