or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Friday, March 09, 2007


I was reading something or other and I came across a word that I have probably seen before, but I couldn't remember what it meant, and it was out of context so that was no help, and to make it worse, it's one of those words that you absolutely cannot look at and dissect in order to tease out its meaning. If you don't know the Latin root, then you're out of luck.

The word is "imbricate". If you don't know it, could you hazard a guess as to what it might mean? I can wait.

It actually means, as an adjective, "regularly overlapping", as roof-tiles do. (As a verb, it means, naturally enough, "to overlap regularly".) How could you possibly guess that? You'd want to divide it up into the prefix "im-" and the root "bric-", and that's not going to get you anywhere, because in fact there isn't any prefix. The word comes from Latin "imber", "rain", which then led to "imbrex", "roof-tile", presumably because the tiles are what shield you from the rain.

You may well be thinking, "Well, roof-tile, imbric-, brick, right?" It briefly, wishfully occurred to me, but it's wrong. Tiles and bricks never got within spitting distance of one another etymologically. "Brick" is actually related to "broken" by way of such Northern European languages as German and Dutch.

You will never guess where else "imber" shows up in English. It requires a vowel change (and, in one case, the loss of nearly half the word), but it's the second half of the months September, October, November, and December, which, it seems clear, constituted the rainy season in Rome. (The first half of each word comes--you don't really need me to tell you this, do you?--from the fact that the Roman calendar had ten months, and those were the seventh, eighth, ninth, and tenth months, respectively.)


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