or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Friday, February 27, 2009

Growth Industry

I have plugged The Teaching Company's lectures before, and now I'm going to do it again. No, they're not paying me to do it; they just have a really good product.

Every year, every one of their courses goes on sale, though not all at once. Right now, one of the sale courses is The History of Ancient Rome. I've only just started listening to it, but I'm quite sure it will be good, because the lecturer, Garrett Fagan, also has another lecture series, Emperors of Rome, which was riveting (and is also currently on sale, $49.99 and worth it).

Seriously, audiobooks are great. You can listen to them on your daily commute, while doing mindless housework, or while at the gym. The Emperors of Rome series was so interesting that I actually stayed on the boring cardio equipment for an extra session because I wanted to hear a particular lecture to the end.

Anyway, in the second lecture of History of Ancient Rome, the word "arable" was used in reference to the fertile soil of Italy, and naturally that got me to wondering just where the word came from. It means "cultivatable", and it seems pretty obvious that it's composed of the stem "ar-" plus the usual "-able" suffix, but I didn't know where the stem might have come from. It couldn't be in any way related to "agriculture", from Latin "ager", "field", could it?

Nah. That would be too easy. It would have to be a word I didn't know already, and that word is Latin "arare", "to plow", from the Indo-European "arh-", with the same meaning. "Arare" led to "arabilis", "plowable", which the French turned into "arable". This word, interestingly, supplanted an extant Old English word, "erable". Wasn't much of a stretch.

The reason I had never heard of the root of "arable" is that, unlike yesterday's "dhragh-" as the progenitor of a massive wad of interrelated words, "arare" left no other offspring in English, not a one.


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