or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Joint Effort

I was writing this big convoluted (yet interesting and well-formed) thing about adjectival suffixes and comedians and Spanish verbs and god alone knows what-all, but it's not finished, and it certainly doesn't look like it's going to be finished any time soon, so instead you get a little blurb about a word I just discovered.

"Anarthrous". Isn't that nice?

Look at it very closely. Strip away any apparent prefixes and suffixes. Does it remind you of anything?

"Arthritis" and "arthropod", maybe. Greek "arthron" means "joint", so arthritis is an inflammation of the joints, and an arthropod (such as a spider, centipede, or lobster) has jointed...legs, actually, though "arthropod" actually means "joint-foot". Near enough.

And "anarthrous", with its "a-/an-" prefix of negation and its "-ous" suffix marking it as an adjective, means "jointless". This is exactly what it means in zoology, but in grammar, it has a very different meaning, one not immediately discernible from its appearance: "lacking an article". I could explain it all to you, but Language Log, where I found the word, will do a much better job, and will trash Dan Brown into the bargain, so it's win-win for you.


Something else I discovered while I was writing that thing I alluded to up there, something that had occurred to me many, many times over the years but which I only just bothered to look up today: "avocado". It looks so much like a Spanish version of "advocate" (and in fact many is the time over the years that I have referred to the magazine The Advocate as "The Avocado"), and yet what would a pebbly green fruit also known as the alligator pear (for obvious reasons) have to do with advocates?

Not a lot, and yet that's more or less where the name came from. More or less.

"Avocado" actually comes from the Nahuatl word "ahuakatl", which means, and I am not kidding, "testicle". Whether this has to do with the shape or with the putative aphrodisiac properties of the fruit is up for debate. "Akuahatl" became "aguacate", and this eventually was turned into "avocado", which already existed and meant "lawyer".

"Avocado", of course, no longer means "lawyer" in Spanish: the modern word is "abogado". Still; pretty close.

"Advocate", by the way, is descended from Latin "vocem", "voice", because an advocate is one who gives voice to your concerns.

Also, guacamole.


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