Cephalogenic

or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

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Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Think It Over

I had nothing to write about for the last few days, and then this morning in the comments section for Salon.com's review of the last episode of the fourth season of The Wire (great show, by the way, but the article is one big spoiler, so don't read it if you haven't seen the episode), someone used the word "putative", and I was off.

"Putative" means "supposed", which is to say "suppos├ęd", the adjective, not the verb: it looks like "computer", "impute", "reputation", and a bunch of other words, but I couldn't quite see how it was related. At first. Then I realized that "suppos├ęd" means "thought to be", and there it was: "-put-" means "think", somehow.

It took a while to get there, though. The original root of the word is, unexpectedly and amazingly, "pavere", "to beat", which looks like "pave" because that's where "pave" comes from: paving is done on a foundation of beaten, crushed, cut, or otherwise demolished stone.

Since paving-stones can be cut, another word, "putare", evolved from "pavere". "Putare" means "to prune", what we do with trees and shrubs, and from this came "amputate", what we do with a limb, whether it's on a tree or a person. Eventually, a figurative sense evolved, possibly from pruning one's ideas to come up with the best one, and we wound up with such words as the ones mentioned above as well as "dispute" and, unexpectedly, "count" (and "counter", a surface on which one counted money).

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