or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Hidden Agenda

Another one of those lovely coincidences, sort of, only not really.

Jim was reading a web page about steganography, which is the hiding of information inside other information: specifically, the hiding of information so that its existence is invisible and, usually, unsuspected. If you write a letter using some form of cipher or code, it's obvious that it's a hidden message, but if you write between the lines of an ordinary English-language letter another message in invisible ink, that's steganography, because nobody would have any reason to suspect that the letter is anything except just what it looks like.

As he was doing this, I happened to have my blog-editing page open, and there happened to be among all the other titles a blog post entitled "Stick Around", and I guess it triggered something in the back of my brain, because I thought, "Stick...steig-...can't have anything to do with steganography, can it?"

Well, it can't, but the truth is even better. "Steganography" comes from Greek "steganos", "covered, hidden", and Latin "graphia", "writing", which describes it perfectly, I think you'll agree. After I told Jim this, he said, "Stegosaurus?", and I couldn't quite see how there could be a connection, but as it turns out, there is one. The stegosaurus is the one with those big lozenge-shaped armour plates on its back, and it got its name, not because it is covered with armour, but because those plates resemble the tiles which cover a roof. Don't you love it?

"Steganos" is derived from Indo-European "(s)teg-", meaning "to cover". English doesn't have as many offshoots of this as you might expect, but there are a few, some of them surprising. Fittingly, because a stegosaurus' back is adorned with roofing-tiles, "tile" is one derivative. Latin "tegere", "to cover", led to "protect", which is to say "cover", and also "detect", or "uncover", as well as "integument", a protective biological covering such as skin or a shell, and "toga". Germanic relatives from "(s)teg-" include "thatch" (a simpler roof covering than tiling) and "deck", in a couple of senses--the deck of a ship, which covers its innards, and the verb most familiar from the Christmas carol "Deck the Halls", because you cover them in decorations (a word which is unfortunately not related).


Post a Comment

<< Home