or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Sunday, April 27, 2008


I would have gotten around to this earlier but I was wrapped up in a book, "Perfumes" by Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez. It arrived in the mail on Thursday, and since I had a lot of work to do, I manfully put off opening the package until Friday after work (a forbearance that does not come naturally to me). But ever since then, I haven't gotten much at all done. A book like that is heroin to a perfume lover. Well, not heroin; only actual fragrances are. But catnip.

Anyway, I promised you Indo-European "deik-", and "deik-" you shall have.

It originally meant "to show" or "to pronounce solemnly", and it branched out into an exhausting and mostly idiomatic mass of words in English. The words with the most obvious and direct connection are "teach", to show someone how to do something, and "digit", from Latin "digitus", "finger"; what better way to show something than to point to it? Through "digit" we also have "indicate" and "index".

From there it's all over the map. A big cluster of words referring to speech and saying evolved from "deik-", including "dictation", "dictator" (who tells his people what to do), and "diction", "dictum" and "ditto" ("what he said", in essence), and also "ditty", a song with words to it.

There are many "-dict-" words, some of which have no remaining sense of talking or showing: "benediction" and "malediction" do (more or less "good talk" and "bad talk", respectively), and "contradict" ("to say against"), but "addict" is entirely divorced from the family through a chain of changes. It started as Latin "addicere", "to declare towards", and came to mean "to allot"; then the sense came to be "to devote to something; to yield the self to something", and by the early 17th century, it had begun to acquire its modern meaning, but very slowly; it referred to practices and people (you could addict yourself to someone), but not to drugs until the late eighteenth century.

"Token" is a sign or mark of some sort: so is French "tache", a spot or stain. "Paradigm" comes through Greek "deigma", "pattern". An abstraction, "to show" becoming "to direct" becoming "to throw" ("to direct through space"), turned "deik-" into "disc" and "discus". Latin "dicare", "to proclaim" (a refinement of "to speak"), gave English "abdicate" ("to renounce", literally "to proclaim away from") and "dedicate" ("to speak out", later "to consecrate"), "predicament" and "predicate", and "preach".

A clutch of legal words also stem from "deik-": "judge" and "judicial", from Latin "iudex", "one who pronounced the law". (From this sense also comes "prejudice".) "Juridical" and "jurisdiction" as well as "indict" come from "dicere", as does "verdict" ("to speak the truth") and "edict".

There are others, too, but haven't we had enough? Oh, all right, just two more. "Dish" is related, for probably obvious reasons, to "discus", and, for much less obvious reasons, so is "desk". (It was in the middle ages a round refectory table.)


Blogger D.J. said...

Have you ever read _The Emperor Of Scent_? It's about Luca Turin and his vibrationary theory of scent, and his conflict with the current tenured folks who champion a shape-based theory. Completely fascinating.

Monday, April 28, 2008 6:22:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I hope you will review The Guide, either here or on your other site. Please?

Tuesday, April 29, 2008 4:22:00 PM  

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