or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Wednesday, June 13, 2007


I saw a homemade sign for an upcoming yard sale yesterday, and apparently the street on which it's being held is called Chandler Crecent.

If you don't know how to spell "crescent" properly, then you're probably not going to get it right by taking a stab at it (you don't really have a better than one-in-three chance), and that stab, I think, is equally likely to produce the incorrect "crecent" or "cresent". After all, the word ends in the sound made by the homophones "cent" and "sent". (What it actually ends in, alas for all the bad spellers out there, is the equal homophone "scent".)

"Crescent" means one thing in English: a curved, double-horned shape like this:

But "crescendo" is an Italian music term which has spread into the general language, and it doesn't mean anything like a crescent shape. You'd think it ought to mean "starting off small, getting bigger, and then tapering off again", which is what a crescent does, but instead it means "gradually becoming bigger or louder". What the hell?

The secret to "crescendo" is that "crescent", which is its descendent (through Middle English "cressaunt", from French "croissant"), doesn't actually have anything to do with the shape itself, at least not directly. "Crescent" is now a noun, but it used to be an adjective derived from the Latin "crescere", "to grow", which gave English "increase" and "decrease". "Increase" is what "crescent" is all about: from a new, i.e. invisible, moon, the moon is growing--crescent--and the shape it forms as it does so is what gives us that noun.

"Crescere" also gives us such words as "recruit"--to cause an army to grow again by getting new troops--and "concrete", which grows together as it hardens.


Anonymous Youngmi said...

thank you, i was looking up for the word 'crescendo-shaped warp' and could get a clue from your website. it was much help.

From Young Mi
future translator in Korea

Tuesday, December 02, 2008 10:32:00 PM  
Blogger pyramus said...

Glad I could help! Translation is hard, usually thankless work.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008 7:51:00 AM  

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