cryptography (kripˈtäɡrəfē)

Many years ago, I visited the International Spy Museum in Washington, D.C. One of the most interesting exhibits talked about the history of espionage and the need for governments to keep sensitive information hidden to maintain national security.

Cryptography is the study of techniques used for secure communication. It comes from the Greek roots crypt- meaning secret, and -graphy, meaning to write. Cryptography literally means secret writing!

Scytales are the one of the oldest forms of cryptography. Scytale comes from the Greek word, skútalon, which means baton or cylinder.

Secret messages were written on parchment or leather that was wound around a cylinder of a particular size. The recipient of the message could only decode it by wrapping it around an identical cylindrical rod. Scytales were created and used by the Spartans during military campaigns.

The International Spy Museum is one of the secret treasures of Washington, D.C. If you ever get a chance to visit, I highly recommend it.

neologism (nē-ˈä-lə-ˌji-zəm)

COVID-19 has contributed many neologisms to the English language. (photo from https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/10912106-181/sonoma-county-signs-discourage-nonessential)

The coronavirus pandemic is not only affecting our every day lives, but also how we interact and speak. The English lexicon has expanded in recent months – new words and phrases have been added to online dictionaries at a rapid rate to keep up with society’s use of these neologisms. A neologism is a new word, usage, or expression. The word consists of two Greek roots: neo- meaning new and -log- meaning word.

During the last several months, the words coronavirus and COVID-19 have been added to online dictionaries and these words have spawned the use of phrases like self-isolation and shelter in place. Although these phrases have been around for years, the coronavirus has given them new meaning. Self-isolation was first coined in 1834 to refer to the action of isolating oneself from the rest of society – now, it refers to self-quarantine in order to halt the transmission of COVID-19. Likewise, shelter in place used to refer to staying in one’s home under the threat of nuclear warfare. It now refers to a government mandated order to stay at home in the wake of coronavirus.

We are seeing linguistic creativity in social media, too. Slang words like coronacation (forced vacation due to coronavirus), zoom-bombing (disrupting a Zoom call), covidiot (insult for people who disregard public health and safety rules) are now part of our vocabulary. Acronyms such PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) previously used by medical personnel are now part of everyday vernacular.

COVID-19 has probably contributed the most neologisms to our vocabulary than any other significant event to date – however, neologisms have been added to dictionaries throughout history, often during times of social crises. For example, WWII brought us the word radar (Radio Detection and Ranging). In 2003, infodemic was introduced to our vocabulary as a result of SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome). Infodemic refers to the misinformation that spread during the epidemic.

To explore and learn about the neologisms that have been added to two prominent dictionaries, click here for Oxford English Dictionary and here for Merriam Webster. Chances are you already know many of them!

geisterspiel (ɡaɪstər-spēl)

Bundesliga is set to continue its season on May 16 without spectators. (photo from https://time.com/5836077/baseball-covid-coronavirus/)

COVID-19 has put a damper on sporting events around the world. All sports and gatherings of more than six people have been prohibited since March.

When sports are played without spectators, they are usually referred to as “behind closed doors.” Sports can be played behind closed doors depending on a number of reasons such as civil unrest, potential clashes between fans, and pandemics. Without fans, the passion of a sporting event is severely diminished.

A unique word from German describing this phenomenon is geisterspiel. The word geisterspiel once referred to soccer games that were so blanketed in winter fog that the players looked like ghosts and the fans had no idea where the ball was on the field. Geisterspiel contains two German words – geister, which means ghosts, and spiel, which means game. A geisterspiel is a game that is played completely in front of cameras, with no spectators in the audience.

This year marks the first geisterspiel of the Bundesliga, a professional soccer league in Germany, due to COVID-19. The season, which was suspended on March 13, will continue on May 16. German fans are being told to stay away from the stadium since no spectators will be allowed inside.

Due to COVID-19, several other notable sporting events will be held behind closed doors. Other leagues that plan to hold geisterspiele* are the K League of South Korea, and the J League of Japan. In the United States, NASCAR will return this weekend with a new set of rules and no audience members. Major League Baseball (MLB) is also set to hold games in the beginning of July with no fans present.

COVID-19 has forced us all to adapt. However, the massive disruption in the sporting schedule around the world has been unprecedented. What sport are you looking forward to watching in person after quarantine is over?

*plural of geisterspiel

toxology (täks-älə-jē)

Happy National Archery Day!

I’ve been on my school’s Varsity Archery team for two years now and find the sport highly challenging, yet relaxing. Our team qualified for the State tournament this year for the first time in school history! Unfortunately, due to the coronavirus, the competition was cancelled.

The Greek word for bow is toxon. The ancient Greeks often shot poison arrows at enemy troops. When Rome conquered Greece, the Romans adopted toxon into Latin. However, the meaning of the word changed – in Latin, toxon came to mean poison.

Very rarely, the Greek definition of toxon appears in English. So far, I’ve only encountered two words that have retained the meaning – toxophilite and toxology. You can read my post about the word toxophilite here.

Toxology is the study of archery and projectiles. The word comes from the Greek word toxon meaning bow and -logy meaning study of. Toxology is commonly confused with the word toxicology, which uses the Latin meaning and refers to the study of poisons. In fact, many familiar words in English use the Latin meaning of toxon.

quarantine (kwôrənˌtēn)

Quarantine is the buzzword that’s sweeping across the internet, social media, and the news. But what does it mean exactly?

The word quarantine actually originated during another pandemic, hundreds of years ago. The Bubonic plague lasted from 1347 to 1353 and killed over 20 million people in Europe – wiping out one third of the continent’s total population.

To prevent the spread of the Black Death in Italy, ships were isolated for trentino days if they were returning from plagued areas. Trentino is the Italian word for thirty days. Sailors were required to stay on their ships for the thirty day period. About a century later, trentino was extended to quarantina, a forty day period instead.

Scholars don’t know exactly why isolation was increased to forty days. Obviously, more time in isolation allows the disease to run its course and prevent its spread. Others believe that the forty day period is Biblical in nature – for example, Lent lasts for forty days.

The word quarantine comes from the Italian word quarantina meaning forty days. This is my 29th day at home and I do not expect to go back to school for the remainder of the year. To stay sane during quarantine, I’ve been reading, blogging, and Facetiming my friends. My family has also been baking a lot; they made me a chocolate cake from scratch for my 15th birthday last week. Even though I’m enjoying the time with my family, I am definitely looking forward to life returning to normal.

How are you passing the time?

Name That Animal: Challenge #10

What would you name this animal? Image from https://deutschstyle.de/15-kreative-tier-surreale-fotos.

It’s been a while since my last Name That Animal Challenge, so here it is!

Pretend that you are a scientist and you have just discovered this new species and you have the privilege of naming it. Scientists usually name new species by using Greek or/and Latin roots because the prefixes, stems, and suffixes are like building blocks that can be utilized in countless ways.

Your challenge is to name the unique animal in the picture above using your knowledge of Greek and Latin roots. Keep in mind that you can use characteristics like size, color, or shape to name this animal. Feel free to search my blog to find root words to help you. I’ve provided you a list of roots with their definitions to get you started.

Greek Roots

Root                Meaning
-morph-                   shape
-cephal-                    head
-dasy-                       hairy
-ornith-                    bird
-pter-                        wing
micr-                        small
ailur-                        cat
leuk-                        white
trich-                        hair

Latin Roots

Root                Meaning
-iform                        shape
-corp-                        body
-capit-                        head
hirsut-                       hairy
avi-                             bird
ali-                             wing
-feli-                          cat
fusco-                      dark

Greek roots usually link with -o-, and Latin roots usually link with -i-. What would you name this animal? Be sure to comment and let me know!

If you haven’t already done so, be sure to check out Name That Animal Challenge #1, Name That Animal Challenge #2, Name That Animal Challenge #3, Name That Animal Challenge #4Name That Animal Challenge #5, Name That Animal Challenge #6, Name That Animal Challenge #7, Name That Animal Challenge #8. and Name That Animal Challenge #9.