Cephalogenic

or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

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Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Friday, May 02, 2008

Stick With It

But first, this complaint about a recent article from Slate.com.

Having dinner the other night at an Italian restaurant, I noticed two couples ardently extolling the praises of the bottle of two-buck-chuck they had brought.

"Extol" means "praise". You can't "extol the praises" of something. You can sing its praises, or you can extol its virtues, or you can just extol it, but that's all. I can't tell if it's a simple mistake committed at three in the morning (we all make mistakes, especially when sleep-deprived) or if the writer honestly doesn't know how that particular word is meant to be used, but either way, it's wrong.

You're probably sick of hearing me complain about the lack of copy-editing in practically everything that's published nowadays. I'm sick of hearing me complain about it. But it's everywhere, and it's just enraging. If publications really cared about what they were putting out into the world, they'd make damned sure that they ran everything under the eyes of at least one other person besides the writer, who, I feel compelled to say yet again, is not capable of editing his or her own writing.

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"Extol", by the way, is from Latin "ex-", "up from", and "tollere", "to raise", which is related to Greek "tolman", "to carry, to bear", which also gave Latin "tolerare", "to bear", from which we get "tolerate".

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Where was I?

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Oh, right. English has two words "pale", one meaning "fence post" and one meaning "light in colour", and they come from two different Latin words which come from two different Indo-European roots, one simple and one complicated.

The bleachy version of "pale"--the simple one--is from IE "pel-", and actually there were a number of different "pel-" roots, which seems confusing until you realize that English has two different versions of "pale". The one we're interested in has to do with colours, and some of them are not at all what you'd expect. "Pale" and "pallid", of course, since this "pel-" meant "pale". "Appall" means "to make pale with horror", believe it or not; isn't that nice? "Falcon" and "palomino" both come from this root as well, because falcons and doves--the source of "palomino", unexpectedly--are both grey, and this was another meaning that "pel-" took on. Another grey "pel-" word is "polio", short for "poliomyelitis", a viral inflammation of of the spinal cord and brain stem; I have to assume that the "grey" part refers to the brain. ("Myelitis" is any inflammation of the spinal cord: it's from Greek "muelos", "marrow", since the spinal cord is like the marrow of the spine.)

The complicated, fence version is from IE "pag-" or "-pak", "to fasten", and there's a big clutch of words with more or less that meaning, although sometimes it's kind of a strain. "Pale" isn't too hard to fathom, though: it's basically a stick that's fixed firmly into the ground. Derived from "pale" is, of course, "impale"--to fix upon a stick. A set of pales can be used to improvise a boundary, and Latin "pagus", a village or district, gave us "pagan" and "peasant". "Pale" is also related to "palette", "peel" (the kind used to remove things from an oven), and "pole", all of which are long and narrow.

"Pangere", the source of "pale", also gave English "compact", "impact", and "impinge", all with senses implying, if not fixity, then compression, which is a related idea.

An extended sense of "fasten", "to bind together by treaty", gave us "peace" and "appease", "pacific" and "pacify", and, interestingly, "pay"--to appease someone by giving them money.

The biggest surprise from "pag-"? "Newfangled". You don't say! Try to follow the logic: to fasten; to hold tight; to capture; to be captivated by; to be captivated by the new; something arrestingly novel. "Newfangled"; just like that! "Fang" is a dialectical British verb meaning "to seize", and the usual meaning of "fang", "a tooth", also comes from this sense, believe it or not.

The second biggest surprise? "Travel". Yes, really. It began as Latin "trepalium", "three stakes", a method of torture, which eventually became English "travail", "painful or burdensome labour", which in turn became "travel", "laborious journey".

One last interesting "pag-" word: from Greek "pegnunai", "to fasten", by extension "to coagulate", we have "pectin", a coagulant for jelly.

3 Comments:

Blogger clare said...

Hello,
Tell me if I'm wrong, but isn't there another problem with this article's sentence? Shouldn't "two-buck-chuck" be "two-buck chuck"? With two hyphens, all three words become the modifer without a noun to modify.
If I'm wrong, please edify. I will sing your praises and extol your erudition.
Thanks, always a pleasure to read your blog.
Clare

Friday, May 02, 2008 4:32:00 PM  
Blogger pyramus said...

By god, you're right!

I must have been so incensed at the obvious mistake that I missed the smaller, but no less important, one. Good eyes!

I just checked, and both mistakes are still there. Slate fixes the big errors--errors of fact--but never seems to patch up the grammatical and spelling mistakes, of which there are never a shortage.

Friday, May 02, 2008 11:28:00 PM  
Blogger Frank said...

I thought the "pagus" derivation of pagan had been declared dubious by recent scholarship.

Saturday, May 03, 2008 12:34:00 AM  

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