or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Happy Canada Day

A week or so ago, I saw the word "domain" somewhere and wondered briefly if it might be related somehow to "dominion" and "dominate" before deciding that, duh, it obviously is. Then I went and forgot about it until today.

It's July 1st, which is Canada Day. When I was a tad, it was called Dominion Day; this was changed in 1982. We celebrate it on July 1st not to get a three-day jump on the Americans but because Canada was officially formed (out of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Ontario, and Qu├ębec) on July 1st, 1867. No revolutionary war for us; just a bunch of guys sitting in a room discussing things. That, I think, tells you all you need to know about Canada versus the U.S.

So endeth the history lesson. What you want to know is if "dominion" is related to "domain", and, as I intuited and you surely did too, it is.

We may as well work backwards and stick a bunch of other words into the mix, I suppose. Indo-European "dem-" meant "house" or "household". Without even trying, you can probably generate a half-dozen words that might have come from this root, particularly if you change the vowel from "-e-" to "-o-". "Dominate", "dominion", "domicile", "domestic", and "domain" all have a sense of the home or someone who rules over it, don't they? Greek "despot" is from the same root, originally "lord and master" or something like it and later a tyrannical ruler. Both senses of "domino"--the rectangular playing tile and the black costume-party mask--are also from this root, although their exact path of transmission is obscure: it may be that the mask sense came from the black hoods that priests wear, and then the playing tile came from a fancied resemblance to the mask.

A few other "dem-" words: "dame", the lady of the house, is from Latin "domina", feminine of "dominum", through French, which also gave us "madame" ("ma dame", "my lady") and "mademoiselle" ("ma damoisele", "my young lady"); this last word also gave English "damsel". "Don" and "Donna", proper nouns in English, are Spanish for "lord" and Italian for "lady".

Two last most unexpected words from "dem-". Through a dizzying sequence of changes in consonants and vowels, Latin "dominarium", "power", evolved into Old French "dangier", originally "power", then "power to harm", then "vulnerability to harm", which is where we get "danger". And through another confounding sequence of changes, Greek "demein", "to build" became Gothic "timrjan" and then eventually Norse "timbr", which became in English "timber", the thing from which houses are built. (This Norse word, intriguingly, is related to German "Zimmer", "room".)

Fascinatingly, "democracy" does not come from "dem-", though you might be able to make up a convincing folk etymology for it. Instead, "democracy" is from Greek "demos", "the common people" (also the source of "demotic"). That comes form IE "da-", "to divide", possibly in the sense of "division into groups of people".


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