or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Friday, November 28, 2008


Try to follow:

Yesterday I was thinking about carnations, for reasons I will probably get to tomorrow, and I remembered the word "fimbriated", which describes their petals, and also the word "fimbriate", which is an adjective meaning the same thing (pronounced one way) or a verb (pronounced another), a dual personality actually pretty common in English, a language which loves to multiply entities, beyond necessity if necessary. ("Multiply" is another example: a verb pronounced one way, an adjective pronounced another, or yet another if you shove a hyphen into it.) Thinking of other similar words, one that popped into my head was "intricate": like "fimbriate", it seemed certain that it had once had a life as a verb, if you stress the last syllable and make the vowel long, even though now it functions only as an adjective (with a blunted, schwaed ending).

And guess what? This is exactly the case. "IN-truh-CATE" once meant "to make intricate", or "to entangle or ensnare". It's not used much any more, to say the least; the OED calls it "rare", but I think I'd call it "obsolete", or at least "archaic".

Now; where to you suppose "intricate" comes from? Prefix "in-", that's obvious, and suffix "-ate", also obvious, as are their meanings. The middle, therefore, is "-tric-", and you don't suppose that could be related to English "trick", do you? You do? Good! Because that's exactly the case. Both words are from Latin: "trick" is in a straight line from Latin "tricari", "to play tricks", through French "triquer", "to deceive", while "intricate" is even more directly from Latin "intricare", "to entangle", the root of which is "tricae", "perplexities, tricks".

If you stare at "intricare" long enough you will decide, correctly, that "intrigue" is also from this same source, through, self-evidently, French. (The French actually got it from Italian rather than Latin, specifically the verb "intrigare", which forms a neat way-station between "intricare" and "intriguer".)


Post a Comment

<< Home