or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Never Forget

Tomorrow is our first anniversary*, and since I have to work all day, Jim and I decided to have dinner out tonight. During some lull in the conversation--or maybe when he'd gone to the can--I noticed the word "remember"** written somewhere and was trying to work out where it might have come from.

"Member" is obvious: it's from Latin "membrum", which meant, as it does in English, "limb" or "part, especially of the body"; its various other meanings in English are extensions of this idea. (A member of a committee is a part of that organization, as an arm is part of a body.) "Dismember" means to cut or tear limb from limb; "dis-", "apart", plus "-member". It was hard to make out how "remember" might be related, but maybe, through a process of semantic change, it could have had a meaning such as "to put (ideas) back together in your mind". It isn't completely out of the question.

It is, however, completely wrong. The "-member" of "remember" has nothing to do with the word "member" itself. Knowing that, can you play around with the word and hazard a guess as to its origin?

While you mull that over, I'll just point out that "member" is from Indo-European "mems", "meat", because a limb is indisputably made of meat. Other than "member" and its prefixed offshoots, "mems" left no trace in English.

"Remember", as it turns out, and I can't quite believe that this didn't at some point occur to me, is related to "memory". Duh! It comes from Latin "rememorari", which is "re-", "again", plus "memor", "mindful", plus the infinitive suffix "-ari". This made it into French as the verb "remembrer" (where it nowadays sensibly means "to regroup", the sense of "to remember" having been taken up by the verb "souvenir") and thence into English.

"Memor", of course, has a few other offspring in English: not just "memory" and "remember" but also "memorial", "memorable", "commemorate", and "memoranda", a list of things we need to remind ourselves of.

* It's sort of complicated. Back in the early part of this decade, when we were living in Halifax, two guys couldn't get married, but they could get what was called a domestic partnership. So we got one; I don't even remember the year, but it was on August 2nd. Last year, when marriage became an option, we decided to go for it, and since marriages were performed at City Hall only on the first and third Fridays of every month, we shot for the closest we could come to August 2nd, which turned out to be, felicitously enough, August 3rd. So that's our official real actual anniversary.

** Want to see a completely insane product? It's called the Remember Ring, and you can check out the site if you like, or you can just accept that on the day before the date that can be programmed into it, this wedding ring heats up once an hour to remind a man--of course it's aimed at men--that the next day is his wedding anniversary, and if he should chance to forget, he will pay the price as his wife confronts him with stereotypical fury, invective, and storms of unappeasable tears, because he just doesn't care. Fortunately it doesn't actually exist--it's a "concept product", which I assume means that if enough people show interest in buying the $760 ring, the company will figure out a way to produce them and market them.


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