or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

I Remember Papa

You never know what's going to stick in your head from your childhood, do you? Little bits and pieces of things, television jingles for products that are no longer made, offhanded comments from relatives, the smell of Play-Doh, all in there in a big jumble, waiting to be dredged up by happenstance. You may not remember an anniversary, but you sure do remember the name of your childhood pets.

For no apparent reason, a joke (which I am probably not remember entirely accurately, but such is memory) surfaced today from a long-forgotten episode of "M*A*S*H", which I have not seen in thirty years or more:

"Shall we repair to my tent?"
"Why, is it broken?"

Now. Why should it be that that joke is even possible? There are two words in English which are identical in every respect except for the fact that their meanings have no point of contact; where did they come from?

The second meaning of "repair" in the joke, "to mend", comes from Latin "re-", "again", plus "parare", "to prepare", because when you repair something you re-prepare it for reuse.

The first meaning, "to go", comes from somewhere else entirely: Latin "repatriare", "to return to one's country of birth", via French "repairer", with the same meaning. "Repatriare" also shows up in English as "repatriate", and is related to "patriot", someone who stands up for his or her country: these words are descended from Latin "pater", "father", because your own country is of course the fatherland.


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