or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Wrapped Up

Yesterday one of the words that cropped up in my posting was "hortatory", and afterwards I thought, "Gee, what about 'horticulture'?"

They aren't related, except in the most superficial way (more in a moment), but I did find something out: "horticulture" (the Dorothy Parker joke is too easy to make--you can look it up yourself) is part of an amazingly varied family of words. You won't believe it.

First of all, the word is descended from the Indo-European root "gher-", "to grasp". This word led to a larger sense, "to enclose", and this is the thing that, however distantly, relates all the words in the family. ("Hortatory" comes from a different "gher-", unrelated to this one, that means "to like, to want" and also gave us "yearn" and "greed": when you want something, you yearn for it, when you want it too much, you're greedy, and when you convince someone else to want something, you do it by exhorting them. Yes, it's tempting to think that "greedy"="grasping" and the two "gher-"s are cousins, but they really aren't.)

Let's start with the most unexpected set of that first "gher-"'s relatives: the "chor-" words which are all related to music. They come from the Greek derivative, "khoros", which meant a dancing ground, which is to say an enclosure for dancing. This gave English not only the muse of dancing, Terpsichore, but also such words as "carol", "choir", "choral", "chorale", "chorister", and "chorus". Oh, and the dance known as the "hora".

Another batch of "gher-" words refers to gardening (the "enclosure" sense is obvious here, I trust): "horticulture", as I have said, and also "garden" itself, plus the German import "kindergarten" (literally "child-garden"), and "yard" and "orchard".

A third clutch of words has to do with midriffs and the things that enclose them: "girdle", which is derived from "gird" and its adjectival form, "girt", plus "girth", the size of that midriff.

And finally, we have a group of words which sprang from the people inside an enclosure. "Cohort" began its life as a military term, a division of the Roman army, and it still broadly has this sense, among numerous others. In Middle French and then Middle English, it took on another sense: a farmyard. From this sense it evolved out into any sort of enclosed outdoor space and became "court", which was such a useful term that it spread broadly, as a noun ("place of justice", "sports field", "royal residence", "short street", and on and on) as well as a verb ("to woo a mate", "to appeal to or incite"). "Court" gave us "courteous", "courtesy" and then "curtsey", "courtier" and "courtesan", and a funeral procession, a "cortege".

One more lovely relative: again related to the gardening sense, from Latin "hortulanus", a diminutive of "hortus", "garden", comes the French (and occasionally English) word for the bobolink, "ortolan", emberiza hortulana.


Blogger Thiltetu said...

Ahhh, your post brings back memories.

My etymology prof in college had a thing for the word 'orchard', as he loved to point out that the first half came from the latin hort-, and the second half coming from the word that eventually became yard. On more than one occasion, he chuckled at the idea of a "garden-yard".

Tuesday, October 16, 2007 10:50:00 PM  

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