or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Look Out!

I think it's safe to say that, as a rule, the human brain doesn't work too well at five in the morning.

No, wait. There are people who work during the night and sleep during the day, and their brains probably work fine, so I think it's safe to say that, as a rule, the human brain doesn't work well on three hours of sleep.

My own fault, really. I got home from work at 6 yesterday and was really thirsty (and hadn't had any caffeine since about 7 a.m.), so I drank a couple of glasses of Diet Coke. Big mistake. I slept from 10:30 to about 1:15, and then I woke up, and I've been up ever since. (Up for a couple of hours, went back to bed in a fruitless attempt to sleep, lay there for half an hour, and here I am again.) Something that popped into my brain, for no reason that I can detect or remember, was the pair of words "inspect" and "expect". They must clearly be related, but how?

Well, when you inspect something, you look into it, as the prefix indicates, and when you expect something, you look out for it, once again according to the prefix. Piece of cake! And then my train of thought went entirely off the track, because I couldn't figure out the actual root of the words. Was it "-pec-"? And if so, how did that relate to "look"? Was it descended from a word that also gave us "peek"?

No, of course not. The root isn't "-pec-" but "-spec-", from Latin "specere", "to look at". This self-evidently gave us a host of looking-at words such as "spectator", "speculum", "speculate", and also "spectacle", this last from the French, descended from "spectare", the frequentative* of "specere". We also have "spectre", "spectrum", and "specimen"

"Specere" comes from Indo-European "spek-", "to observe", which through Greek donated to English all the "-scope" words; through French, "spy" and "espionage"; and through Latin, a host of words in addition to those mentioned above, so many that I'm going to save them for tomorrow.

"Peek", as it turns out, is unrelated. Nobody knows where it comes from, but "specere" isn't it.

*A frequentative is a repeated action, indicated in English by the suffixes "-le" or, less commonly, "-er". "Drip", a single drop or a widely-spaced repeat of a drop: "dribble", a continuous stream of droplets. "Bat", to strike at: "batter", to strike repeatedly. "Crack", to break along a line: "crackle", to break along many small lines. You get the idea.


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