or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Friday, March 06, 2009

Rise Up

While reading an article called Did Jesus Really Rise From The Dead? (short answer: no, assuming he even existed), I was struck by a pair of words in relatively close proximity, because I realized that I had no idea where either of them might have come from. One of them, it turns out, is forgivable, because it has an obscure root and no other relatives in English. The other, though; I should have been able to guess.

The first is "sepulchre", which is a tomb or burial chamber. (It gets red-lined in my spell-checker, because Americans spell it "sepulcher", which is not, to my eyes, nearly as aesthetically pleasing.) It's from Latin "sepulcrum", which in turn is from the verb "sepelire", "to bury, to inter". No other English words (that I know of) are from this source, so it's no wonder I couldn't figure it out.

The other word, though, is "resurrection", and you'd think I would have been able to make some sense out of that. "Resurrection" comes directly from Old French in the late thirteenth century, so it's been around a while. ("Resurrect" is a back-formation from the late eighteenth century.) That in turn is derived from Latin "resurgere", "to rise again", from the usual prefix "re-", "again", plus "surgere", "to rise", which obviously gave us "surge". "Surgere" in turn comes from "sub-", "up from under", and "regere", "to guide".

"Surgere" looks like "surgery", and it would be natural to wonder if there were any connection between them, even though it's pretty obvious from the etymology that there couldn't be, and there isn't. "Surgery" is instead related to "urge", which on the face of it is just as ridiculous, but here's how that works. Latin "chirurgia", "surgery" (modern French "surgeon" is "chirurgien"), is derived from Greek "kheirourgia", "something done by hand", compounded out of "kheir-", "hand", plus "ergon", "work". "Ergon" is the source of a few English words including "erg", a unit of work energy", "ergonomics" (mashed together from "erg" and "economics"), and "urge", "to compel to work". "Kheir-" gave English a couple of less common words: "chirality", meaning "handedness" (it refers to molecules which can come in left-handed and right-handed versions, such as dextrose, table sugar, and its mirror version levulose, from respectively "dexter", "right-hand side", and "laevus", "left-hand side"), and "chiromancy", otherwise known as palm-reading.


Post a Comment

<< Home