or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Getting In

I never get "stentorian" and "stertorous" mixed up, though I do always seem to think of "stertorous" as "stertorious" (though I would never actually say it, but that's how it always seems to be in my head, despite the fact that it's wrong and it makes the two words seem even more alike than they actually are).

I bring this up only because I had to deal with a certain amount of stertorousness at work today, and boy that's annoying.

"Stertorous" means "characterized by stertor". That's helpful, no? "Stertor" is just another name for "snoring", though it also refers to that heavy, wheezy, laboured breathing that really fat people and those with lung ailments sometimes have. "Stertorous", therefore, means "breathing in a heavy or snoring manner".

You'll never guess where it comes from. Latin! "Stertere" means "to snore", and that's about all there is to that: the word didn't come from anywhere interesting and didn't give English any other words. English "snore" didn't come from there: instead it came from...well, who do you want to believe? Dictionary.com says it comes from Old English "fnora", which comes from Indo-European "pneu-", which will look familiar since it exists intact in "pneumonia" and "pneumatic", and is also the French word for "tire" (they pronounce the "p-" at the beginning; for us, it's silent, of course.) Robert Claiborne, on the other hand, says "snore" comes from IE "sner-", which also gave English "sneer", "snarl", "snort", and the related "snorkel". Bartleby doesn't even list "sner-", and the OED, which must always be considered the final authority, doesn't mention it either, nor, "pneu-", but merely says that "snore" is related to "snort" and "snork".

All of this means that I have no idea. I don't like being up in the air, but when nobody seems to agree (and they really don't, for some reason), then where else am I to be?

"Stentorian", on the other hand, is pretty well settled. It means "loud or powerful in sound", and you will hardly believe this, but it doesn't come from Latin. Instead, it comes from Greek, and it's not from a word, but a name: it's an eponym for Stentor, a character in the Iliad, "a herald with a loud voice", according to Dictionary.com. Lower-case "stentor", not much seen, also means "a person with a loud or powerful voice", and it also refers to--and this is really very cute--a trumpet-shaped protozoon.

A stent, you will not be surprised to hear, is not related to Stentor, but it is, remarkably enough, named after a person: Dr. Charles R. Stent, the dentist who invented it. "It", in this case, is a tiny tube used to prop open a blocked artery or other biological tubule.


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