or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Seek And Ye Shall Find

I was at the gym this morning and...did I read it, or did it show up on the subtitles of the television screen in front of me, or did I imagine it, or what? I think it must have been a word in the book I've been reading on the elliptical machine for the last couple of weeks (Collapse by Jared Diamond) that made me think of the word "exquisite", and as usual I was drawn out of the book and into my brain, where I tried to figure out the word's provenance and wished I had a portable wireless Internet connection with me twenty-four-seven.

"Exquisite", as a few moments' thought will tell you (as it told me), must be related to "inquisitive" somehow: the same root, Latin "-quis-", plus a suffix--"ex", or "out" versus "in-" or "in". What stumped me was that "quis" by itself means "who", and I knew that it's also the root of "question", but after that I was just at a loss. So it had to wait until I got home. I may not always remember which way is left and which way is right, but I never forget questions of etymology and usage.

The root of "exquisite" is "quaerere", "to seek". That doesn't make a whole lot of sense by itself (although it explains "inquisition", "question", and some other words we'll get to in a minute). But of course: something exquisite is something you seek out, isn't it? It's as literal as it gets.

"Quaerere", being the root of "question", is also the root of "quest", obviously, and therefore "conquest" and "conquer" (seek something out, and take control of it); "-"quire" words such as "inquire", "require", and "acquire"; and "query", which looks and sounds just like its source. ("Esquire" is, you will have guessed, unrelated: it derives from Latin "scutum", "shield", because an esquire, which is to say a squire, is a knight's shield-bearer.)


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