or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Saturday, May 24, 2008


A couple of days ago I pointed the way to Not Always Right, as in "The Customer Is...", a website filled with stories of awful, awful customers. (I have plenty of stories of my own but I won't burden you with them; mine tend to be merely miserable rather than hilarious.) Some of the stories smack too much of writerly invention--they seem like jokes complete with punchlines, or they end with an invisible but implied "And that's the brilliantly witty extempore thing I said to put the moron in his place, and everyone within earshot cheered while the moronic customer slunk away in shame."

Many of them, though, are all too plausible, such as this one:

Customer: “Hi. I need a threesis.”

Clerk: “A…pardon?

Customer: “You know–a threesis. It has other words that mean the same as the word you look up.”

Clerk: “Oh…do you mean a thesaurus?”

Customer: “Duh! That’s a dinosaur! I need a threesis!”

"Duh" is the right word, but in the wrong direction. "Threesis", indeed!

But "thesaurus" does sound like a dinosaur. It couldn't possibly be, of course, and yet it sounds so much like one. Where does "thesaurus" come from, anyway?

From a couple of unexpected places. To go backwards in time, "thesaur" is an extinct Middle English word meaning, and sounding a bit like, "treasure", which is wonderful. "Treasure" is descended from French "tresor", with the same meaning: the French word came from the Latin "thesaurus", the word in question, which meant "treasure" or "treasury", and that came, expectedly, from Greek "thesauros", with the same meanings.

And "thesauros" came from "tithenai", "to put", which also spawned in English "parenthesis" (literally "to put alongside"), and "theme" (something put down in words), and also, with the same essential meaning, "thesis". But not "threesis".


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