or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Friday, March 07, 2008

Inside Information

Reader Frank writes about a recent posting:

When I saw "elaphos," I thought, "that can't mean 'elephant' is somewhere in there, too!" But, no. "Elephant" does come from Greek, but from "elephās," not "elaphos," and might be ultimately Semitic in origin.

"Elephant"! That never even occurred to me. It should have; I guess I was distracted. Ordinarily I would have looked at it and thought, "Maybe it's related to 'elephant', only the vowels changed."

And the thing is that the vowels did change in the word: In English, one of the spellings for it was "olifaunt", based on the French "olifant" from which we got it. (This, obviously, is where the surname Olyphant comes from.)

I'm glad you checked it out, though. I like to be thorough; sometimes I just need a little help.


I was poking around the Internet looking for the Canadian daily recommended dosages for vitamins and minerals, and (under a list of suggestions for finding specific food items in a database) I ran across this alarming typo, by which I mean I saw it and thought, "What the hell?":

try using a pleural form (e.g. gravies, candies, crackers, strawberries, mushrooms) instead of singular (e.g. gravy, candy, cracker, strawberry, mushroom)

"Pleural", eh?

Obviously, what was meant was "plural", which is from Latin "pluralis", a form of the word "plus", which was in Latin as it is in English, only pronounced differently.

Dictionary.com contains as a usage note this little rumination about "plus":

Since plus as a preposition has long had the meanings “more by the addition of” and “with the addition of,” it was but a short step to a newer use, mainly in informal writing and speech, as a conjunction meaning “also, and, furthermore.” Although this use is increasing, many object to it, and it is rare in more formal writing. And plus is likewise objected to, especially for being redundant: The paper was delivered two hours late, and plus it was soaking wet.

I wouldn't allow this use of "plus" in formal writing, but I have to admit a sneaking appreciation for the redundant "and plus". It's got a slangy freshness to it. Besides, since "plus" means "more" (in Latin and in English), isn't "and plus" really just a stripped-down version of "and what is more"?

"Pleural" is the adjectival form of "pleura", which is the lining of the chest cavity, and is (self-evidently, I thought) from the identical Greek word, which in this case means "sides" or "ribs". When the pleural are inflamed, you have yourself a case of pleurisy.

An inflammation of some sort is usually characterized in English with the suffix "-itis", as in "appendicitis" or "meningitis" (an inflammation of the meninges, the membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord). "Pleurisy", you will be interested to know, also ends in "-itis", by proxy, evolving in a series of tiny steps: it started out as "pleuritis" in Latin and Greek; metamorphosed into "pleurisis" in Late Latin; entered Old French as "pleuresie"; and finally took form in Middle English as "pleuresy" before assuming its final shape.


Eventually I tired of looking for the Canadian recommended daily allotments of the various micronutrients--nobody wanted to tell me!--and went with Wikipedia, which sees all, knows all, tells all.


Blogger Frank said...

Always glad to be of assistance!

Friday, March 07, 2008 10:24:00 PM  

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