or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Friday, June 20, 2008


On Wednesday, we had to tear apart the frame shop and rebuild it from the ground up, so there were a whole bunch of us in the shop, all the framers (five of us) and our boss and his boss, and of course if I'm in the room there will be some sort of contention about something sooner or later, and so we had an argument about when summer started this year.

"Summer's on the 20th this year." (That would be me saying that.)
"No, it's the 21st."
"No, it's the 20th. I looked it up."
"No, my calendar says it's the 21st."
"Well, your calendar is wrong. It's the twentieth."
"I'm pretty sure it's the 21st."
"Well, look it up. I did, and it's the 20th this year. It's usually the 21st, but not this year."

It probably went on for a while after that, because I am unfortunately famous for not being able to let things go, but what it boils down to is that they were wrong and I was right because I had looked it up and it is on the 20th this year, which would be today.

I looked it up partly because I like to know things, but mostly because I needed to know for my other blog, on which I wrote about a scent called Terracotta Voile D'Ete, which means "summer veil", and although I bought it a while ago, I wanted to save it for summer, which, as it happens, starts today. ( It starts today only in the most technical sense, which is to say one minute before tomorrow: the solstice, with the earth's axis pointed directly towards the sun, occurs at 11:59 tonight.)

Where does the word "solstice" come from, anyway? You could guess that "sol-" means "sun", from the Latin, but what about the rest?

It's from the verb "sistere", "to stand still", because a the solstice, the sun is at the very top or bottom of its analemma--that distorted figure-eight which you sometimes see printed on globes--and is no longer moving up or down in the sky.

"Sistere" has a bunch of relatives, some of which you can easily divine just by looking at the first syllable, and their meanings are clearer if you know that the verb had or has a few extended meanings: after "to stand still", it naturally came to mean "to come to a stop", and then a bunch of other "stand" senses including "to take a stand" and "to stand forth".

"Desist" means "to stand off" or "to stand away from". "Persist" means "to continue" in the sense of "to stand firm". "Assist": "to stand by (and be ready to help)". "Consist": "to stand together". "Insist": "to stand firmly upon". "Resist": "to stand against". "Exist" is also from this source: it means "to stand forth", or, I should say, "to just kind of stand around".

A couple of other, less familiar terms from the same place. The Latin phrase "stare decisis" means "to stand by things already decided", which refers to legal precedent. "Stet", a copy-editor's term, is what you write on a change you made that you want to change back to the way it was: it means, literally, "let it stand".

Where "sistere" comes from is a mystery that will have to wait until tomorrow.


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