Literature and Language

Etymology and the Dead Poet – Seizing the Day

February 9, 2017
Cut Locks of Hair

Back before Christmas, I was thinking about that movie with Robin Williams.  Carpe Diem! Latin for Seize the Day!  You might remember the name of the movie (Dead Poets Society).  Not me – I had to google it.

And, just so you know – if you google “carpe diem and Robin Williams,” thinking “Carpe Diem” was the name of the movie – Google will tell you that Robin Williams did star in a movie called Seize the Day (1986).  Strange and confusing right?  I was confused.  “Seize the day,” the key message in Dead Poets Society…and another movie starring the same fellow called Seize the Day.  Cosmic if you ask me.  Matrix-like.  Where is Mr. Reeves (and, I called him that because I can’t spell his first name) when you need him to plug something into your head.

I digress.  I do not know why carpe diem struck me that day.  Maybe the holidays had me all energized (or overwhelmed) grasping for some motivation to find the scissors (which were likely laying on the floor next to some fresh-cut blonde curls) to curl the ribbons on the packages.

Hair Clippings - carpe diem

Seize the day!

Seize the Hatchimal from that lady at Target.  Ahem.  Ha-ha.  I don’t know anything about that.  Anyway, ‘carpe diem’ caused me to think about Latin and the English language and from where our words originated, which led me in a way to etymology (the study of the history of words, their origins and how their form and meaning have changed over time). So, I harkened back to my high school Latin class trying to remember.

That was pointless.

To help illustrate why, allow me to tell you this: I recall studying for a Latin exam and as I lay my weary head down on my pillow with visions of an equus (horse) galloping through my head I donned headphones, which were connected to a Walkman, which held a tape of me speaking Latin words and their meanings in hopes that osmosis would occur as I slept.

I am lucky I didn’t strangle myself.  I think that is the closest to osmosis (and asphyxiation) I have ever been.  If you are trying to contrive ways to remember things – that is not it.  Osmosis is for solvents not thoughts.

Back to etymology.  I thought back to college biology courses and botany class in particular and thought – yeah – Latin.  Lots and lots of the English language comes from Latin.  Yeah!  Latin is the basis of almost all of our words.

Then, mama brain looked into that scribbled-on-a-napkin conclusion a little further and realized that the English language in canine terms is a little bit of a mutt.  Yeppers.  It is a good ol’ pound pup of German, French/Old Norman, Latin, Ancient Greek, Dutch…influenced and changed over time.  Technically its roots are in the Germanic branch, whereas the Romance languages (Italian, French, Spanish, Portuguse, etc.) are direct descendants of the Latin language as it evolved in the different areas of the Roman Empire.

Crumbling up that napkin.

While all of that deflated me and made me feel silly for my assumption, there is an important ‘but’ here:  the English language is also largely derived from Germanic Languages, as mentioned above, and French (a Romance language) and many of those words are derived from…you guessed it:  Latin.  So, taking all of that into consideration it rounds the total out to about 65-70% of our words are derived from Latin.

So, the term ‘a lot’ is relative, but in this case it is over half for sure.  If you are looking at science words, it is about 90%. Note to self:  put the children in Latin class if I want them to do anything science or medically-related. Maybe now is the time to convince my husband to get our daughter that equus she wants. It is Latin after all.

Putting All of those Roots to Use

Given the fact that over half of English words harken back to Latin, one can use that to figure out some,  if not the full meanings of a many words simply by looking at their roots or dissecting them …just like that formaldehyde soaked earth worm we all dissected in middle school science class (minus the scalpel and the stench).

Now, you must know the ugly part of this:  there are cases when this can backfire of course…if the root you think came from Latin actually came from another language.  Proceed with caution.  When all else fails the Dictionary is there for you.

How is this really practical for your day-to-day?  It may not be, but it could have you winning at Balderdash or Trivial Pursuit over the next holiday celebration with family.  Bring a bottle of wine to share (or three if Uncle Rico is going to be there) and the next thing you know money is on the game and you are winning – all thanks to this little day-seizing post!  Good luck with all of that.

In the meantime, here are a few Latin roots and what they mean, some words that go with them and a few of their definitions to show you what I am talking about.  I even compiled a sentence for you with some of these delectable words right below the table.

And remember: You may not be omniscient after reading this, but my hope is you know a little something more than you did before.  Carpe Diem and journey on! 

Latin RootRoot MeaningWord examples (some definitions below)
acer, acid, acribitter, sour, sharpacerbic, acidity, acrid, acrimony
antebefore, in frontantecede, antemeridian, anteroom, ante
bell, belliwarantebellum, bellicose, belligerent
dolpaincondolence, dol, doleful, dolorous
gratpleasingcongratulate, grateful, ingrate
omniall, everyomnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, omnivorous
motimovemotor, motivation, promotion
sed, sess, sidSitsediment, session, obsession, possess, preside, president, reside, subside

My holiday summary sentence:

I went home for the holidays and I felt grateful I was an omnivore who could consume turkey, ham, stuffing, tomato pudding and Jello salad.  My motivation to win and my obsession with words led me to score at Balderdash.  After the ante up I rocked the definition of antemeridian so well I was scraping money off the table.   I was omnipotent. The air was acrid around the heads of my opponents, but my motivation to preside as the winner over the game could not be stifled.  In the end I offered my condolences and I was congratulated by the ingrates even though they were feeling dolorous. I then took a panorama photograph of the Balderdash carnage to put in my Shutterfly album.

A Few Definitions:

Acerbic: (especially of a comment or style of speaking) sharp and forthright

Antemeridian: relating to or taking place in the morning

Belligerent: hostile and aggressive

Dolorous: feeling or expressing great sorrow or distress

Ingrate: an ungrateful person

Omnipotent: having unlimited power, able to do anything

Omniscient:  knowing everything

Now go grab the dictionary and do some reading. 🙂

xo, mamabrain

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