or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Sunday, December 30, 2007


If you read back far enough in this blog, you will eventually get the sense that I must have some sort of photographic memory, because I refer back to various things that I've written about. My memory isn't supernaturally good; I just keep the entire blog, updated once a month, in a word-processing file, and then when I think I've mentioned something before, I search for the term or terms that will lead me to the earlier posting(s).

It doesn't always work, though. Yesterday I wrote about the Latin word "jacere", "to throw". I was certain I had written about this before, because the word "adjective", which I didn't mention yesterday but which is nonetheless related, had come up in the discussion. But searching for "jacere" or "iacere" (because Latin used the two letters interchangeably) gave me nothing, and searching for "adjective" was of course hopeless; I've used it hundreds of times. (Why didn't I think to search the term "to throw"? That would have led me right to it.) Anyway, I didn't find it yesterday, but today, even without the benefit of very much sleep, it occurred to me to search for "ejaculate", and here's the earlier posting.

Because of course "ejaculate" is obviously related to "jacere". The reason I didn't find that Latin word in any earlier posting is because I had written that it's from "jaculari", which is also true: verbs in Latin come in a most bewildering array of forms, taking all sorts of endings depending on gender, tense, and case. I should have said in that earlier blog entry that it was from "jacere", because that's the root form of the verb; I don't know which dictionary led me (slightly) astray, but no matter.

But how can "adjective" be related? As I mentioned earlier, it's because "jacere" doesn't just refer to things thrown up into the air; it can also take on a related sense of things thrown down, at which point they just lie there, and an adjective is a word that's thrown down next to a noun. Another word with this sense is "adjacent", from "ad-", "by", plus "jacere", "to lie [having been thrown]".

"Jacere" stems from Indo-European "ye-", with the same meaning. The words I mentioned yesterday are all fairly obvious (I forgot a few, including "jettison", "jetsam", and "jetty"), but there's also another small group of words from a Greek derivative of "ye-", "hienai", meaning variously "to throw" and "to send": the most common of these are "enema" and "catheter" (the preposition "kata-", "down" or "back", plus "hienai").


Blogger clare said...

This post reminds me of one of my favorite etymologies from ancient Greek class from two-plus decades back (I was horrifically bad at the grammar, but the vocabulary has stuck with me): our word "hyperbole," which when deconstructed to its root words, creates a very visual (one of my favorite attributes of the language) image that can be either literal or metaphorical.

1529, from L. hyperbole, from Gk. hyperbole "exaggeration, extravagance," from hyperballein "to throw over or beyond," from hyper- "beyond" + bol-, nom. stem of ballein "to throw." (http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=hyperbole

Cheers, and thanks for the etymological stimulation!

Sunday, December 30, 2007 4:04:00 PM  
Blogger clare said...

Can you please recommend a book or site about Indo-European language? Thanks,

Sunday, December 30, 2007 4:31:00 PM  

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