or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Strictest Confidence

As I was headed out to the bus to work this afternoon and Jim was on his way to look for some new pants (which he apparently didn't buy, or if he did didn't tell me about), he said, apparently out of nowhere, "'Severe' and 'several'?" I knew what he meant: "Are they related?" I floated a couple of theories and then said, "Well, you could look it up," to which he replied, "No, you could look it up." And so when I got home from work not too long ago, I did, and it turns out that I had guessed correctly, which is pleasant.

I assumed that the words, though they looked so similar, were unrelated, but that "several" had to descend from "sever", since an old meaning of "several", mostly if not entirely gone from the modern tongue, was "separate", as in "They went their several ways". I couldn't guess why "severe" even existed if it wasn't related to "sever" and "several", but I was pretty sure that that was the case.

"Sever" and "several" are, of course, the same essential word. They stem, most unexpectedly, from Latin "parare", "to try to get", later "to equip, to prepare", which led to "separate" after a number of linguistic mutations, and that word, after a change in consonants, led to "sever" and "several". ("Parare" gave birth to a quite dizzying collection of English words, including but not limited to "pare" and "prepare", because one pares fruit and vegetables to prepare them for eating; "parry", to prepare for an attack; "repair", to re-prepare something for reuse; "parure", a French word meaning "adornment" which in English means "a matched set of jewels"; and "emperor" and "imperial".)

"Severe", on the other hand, comes from Latin "severus", with the same meaning. "Persevere" also comes from the same root, naturally enough; "severity" means "strictness", and perseverance is a strict adherence to one's path.


Blogger Jim (the Canuck One) said...

Well, if you look on the fridge you'll see the claim tag -- they're being hemmed sometime this week.

(Curse you, universe, for giving me 29in inseams!!! 30's rub on the carpet and 28's look like I've had minor flood damage!!)

Sunday, July 15, 2007 5:07:00 PM  

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