complacent (kəm-plā-sənt) vs. complaisant (kəm-plā-sənt)

 

Let’s kick off our homonym theme with a pare pair of adjectives that I find to be particularly tricky. The words complacent and complaisant are homophones as well as heterographs. As you may recall, homophones are words that sound the same, but are defined differently, while heterographs have the same pronunciation but different spellings and meanings.

Both words are derived from the Latin infinitive complacere meaning to please. Complaisant means “a desire to please,” whereas complacent means “pleased with one’s self” or “self-satisfied,” and usually has a negative connotation. To make it more confusing, one of the definitions of complacent IS complaisant! However, if you use the word complacent to mean “willingness to please or oblige others”, linguists will probably label it incorrect.

Stay tuned for another tricky homonym pear pair soon!

 

 

 

syzygy (si-zə-jē)

On August 21, 2017, millions of people in North America witnessed a rare astronomical event – a total eclipse of the Sun. This occurs when the Moon’s orbit aligns with the Earth and Sun.

When the Moon passes in front of the Sun, it casts two different types of shadows on Earth, the umbral shadow (umbra literally means “shadow” in Latin) and penumbral shadow. The umbral shadow is quite small, while the penumbral shadow covers a larger area of the Earth’s surface. In order to experience a total eclipse, you must be within the umbral shadow, or the path of totality, during the time of the eclipse.

The path of totality on August 21st was 70 miles wide, starting in Oregon and ending in South Carolina. However, everyone in the United States experienced a partial eclipse, even if they were not in the path of totality.

In Hopkinsville, Kentucky, syzygy* occurred for 2 minutes and 40 seconds. This was one of the longest periods of totality that could be viewed in the United States. Hopkinsville is a relatively short drive from our house and we decided to make the trek for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. We drove to a friend’s farm and sat in a quiet, open, field to watch this awe-inspiring event.

At the time of totality, the birds stopped singing, the cicadas started chirping, and darkness fell upon us. There was a peaceful white light emanating from the Sun and it was beautiful. We even witnessed the dazzling “Diamond Ring effect” as totality ended. I am truly grateful to have experienced this event with my family.

*Syzygy occurs when three celestial bodies align perfectly. The word comes from the Greek word syzygos which means yoked or united together.

Terms of Venery (ve-nə-rē)

Hello everyone! This is an unusual post as it is not about the exploration of one word but of a group of terms that many of us use everyday. Collective nouns are words that are used to describe a collection of people, animals, or things. You are likely familiar with collective nouns such as a “herd” of horses or a “pride” of lions, but there are some collective nouns that are uncommon and rarely used. Terms such as “murmuration of starlings” and “chattering of choughs” are quite possibly the most poetic and colorful aspects of the English language, in my opinion.

Many collective nouns that we use today can be traced back to The Book of St. Albans printed  in 1486. This book covered matters related to gentlemanly pursuits namely hawking, hunting, and heraldry; it also included a large list of collective nouns for animals. This book became very popular and was re-printed many times throughout the sixteenth century for it was essential and necessary for a medieval gentleman to know the appropriate terms for animals to indicate that he was well educated and adept at hunting.

Terms of venery are essentially collective nouns. The word venery comes from the Latin word venari, which means to hunt so terms of venery refer to hunting or animals that are hunted. Many of the terms in The Book of St. Albans refer to game animals, however, the book also included terms related to life and people.

Browse the pictures in the gallery for terms of venery included in The Book of St. Albans that are still in use today, albeit rarely.

demiguise (demē-gīz)

A Demiguise is a peaceful creature who can make itself invisible at will. (image from www. harrypottercanon.wikia.com)

A Demiguise is a peaceful beast, according to Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them by Newt Scamander. They are found in the Far East, however, it is difficult to spot them because of their ability to make themselves invisible when they feel threatened. Since they are also able to predict immediate future events, it makes this creature hard to capture.

A Demiguise resembles an ape with fine silvery hair, which hides its big black eyes. The pelts of Demiguises are valued because they can be woven to make Invisibility Cloaks. The Ministry of Magic classifies these creatures as XXXX, meaning that they are fairly dangerous.

Demiguise contains the Latin root demi-, meaning half. It also contains the word guise, that which conceals the true nature of something. This name is fitting because a Demiguise can conceal itself by becoming invisible. Additionally, their ability to predict the future, which is always half-concealed and varying based on certain conditions, also makes this name relevant.

This concludes my series of posts on Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them. I hope you enjoyed this theme!

lethifold (lēthə-fōld)

A Lethifold is shroud of darkness that preys upon sleeping wizards or Muggles. (image from www.moviepilot.com)

In Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them, Newt Scamander states that a Lethifold is a very rare creature that dwells in tropical climates. A Lethifold looks like a black cloak that floats along ominously during the night seeking victims who are sleeping. Once its prey has been suffocated thoroughly, it simply digests them in their beds, leaving no trace of its victims.

Since Lethifolds are stealthy killers, it is difficult to find much information about them. However, Flavius Belby, who survived a Lethifold attack, wrote the earliest account of Lethifolds in 1782. During the attack, Belby writes that he tried to overcome the Lethifold by using a Stupefying Charm and an Impediment Hex, neither of which worked. Finally, Belby cast the Patronus Charm, which repelled the Lethifold successfully.

The Ministry of Magic rates these highly dangerous creatures XXXXX, meaning that they are known to kill wizards and it is not possible to train or domesticate them.

Lethifold contains the Latin root leth-, meaning deadly or fatal. Leth- was probably influenced by the Greek word “lethe,” referring to the mythological river in the Underworld whose waters caused spirits to forget everything about their former lives. It makes sense that the word “lethe” would later influence the Latin “leth-” because if a person forgets who he is and loses all his memories, he loses his sense of self which is similar to death.  Since the Lethifold is a deadly creature, this name seems apropos.

Join me next week as we continue exploring fantastic creatures from the Harry Potter world. I hope you are all enjoying these posts as much as I am enjoying writing them!

augurey (ȯ-gyərē)

The augurey is a greenish-black bird that was once thought to foretell death. (image from playbuzz.com)

According to Newt Scamander, author of Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them, the Augurey is a bird that primarily dwells in Britain and Ireland. This bird resembles a small, malnourished, greenish-black vulture. This melancholic bird is very shy and only comes out of its tear-shaped nest during heavy rains.

One can distinguish an Augurey by its low, throbbing cry that was once believed to foreshadow death. However, researchers have refuted that idea, and have discovered that the Augurey only sings when rain is approaching. The Ministry of Magic classifies the Augurey as XX, meaning that it is harmless and can be domesticated.

The bird’s name probably comes from the word “augury,” which is the practice of interpreting the flight patterns of birds. Romans believed that the gods expressed their will through various signs in nature. They believed that nothing important should be done without the blessing of the gods so they appointed augurs, a special group of priests, to divine the will of the gods by observing and interpreting the signals of birds.  “Augur” comes from the Latin word “auspex”, which literally means “one who takes signs from the birds.”

Come back next week for another fantastic beast!

quintaped (kwint-əped)

The Quintaped is a highly dangerous, carnivorous wizard-killer that should be avoided at all costs. (image from harrypotter.wikia.com)

In Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them, Newt Scamander describes the “quintaped” as a  “highly dangerous carnivorous beast with a particular taste for humans” (pg. 67).

The Quintaped is commonly found in northern Scotland, on the Isle of Drear. According to legend, there were two wizarding families that lived on the Isle of Drear, the McCliverts and the MacBoons. The leaders of each of these clans faced off in a duel, which ultimately led to the death of the McClivert chief. To avenge their leader’s death, the McCliverts transfigured every single MacBoon into a horrible five-legged beast.

Unfortunately for the McCliverts, the transfigured MacBoons were even more dangerous in their new form. The MacBoons ended up killing all of the McCliverts. The MacBoons remained in this monstrous state for there were no remaining wizards left to change them back into their former selves.

The Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures has attempted to capture and un-transfigure a Quintaped to no avail. The Ministry of Magic has classified Quintapeds as XXXXX, meaning that they are “known wizard killers” and are “impossible to domesticate or train” (pg. xxxv).

Quintapeds are aptly named, the Latin root quint- means five while –ped means foot. Interestingly enough, the leader of clan MacBoon was named “Quintius,” which might explain why they were transfigured into five-legged creatures.

vexillology (veksəˈläləjē)

 

The Rio Olympics are well underway, making this a great time to engage in vexillology.

Vexillology is the study of flags. It originates from the Latin word vexillum, which means flag, and contains the Greek suffix -logy, which means study of.

There are 206 countries, each with their own unique flag, participating in this year’s Olympics. Some particularly fascinating flags belong to the countries of Nepal, Bhutan, and Japan. Bhutan’s flag depicts the national symbol of the country, Druk, the Thunder Dragon.  Nepal’s flag is the only flag in the world that is not rectangular or square; it consists of two pennants stacked on each other, which represent the peaks of the Himalayan mountains. Japan’s flag is beautiful in its simplicity – a solitary red disc, symbolizing the sun, on a white background.

The Olympic flag itself is quite interesting. It depicts five colorful rings, each of which represents a continent. The interlocking rings represent the unity of the continents and the meeting of athletes from all over the world.

Are any of you vexillophiles? If so, which flags are your favorite?

pacific (pəˈsifik)

Last week, my family and I went on a relaxing vacation to beautiful Monterey, California. Monterey, a small seaside city on the central coast of California, is one of my favorite places to visit because of the mild weather and beautiful beaches. My sister and I love to stroll on the beach and hunt for sea glass that washes up from the Pacific Ocean.

The Pacific Ocean is the biggest ocean on Earth, covering 59 million square miles and containing more than half of the free water on Earth. The Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan is responsible for naming this large body of water in 1520. Because of the calmness of the water, he named the newfound ocean “pacific.”

Pacific comes from the Latin root word pac- meaning peace or calm . The Latin suffix -fic means to make or do. The word “pacific” literally means “to make peaceful.” The word “pacific” is both a noun and an adjective. As a noun, the word refers to the “Pacific Ocean,” but when used as an adjective it means calm or tranquil.

Sicca syndrome

Sicca syndrome results in xerophthalmia and xerostomia. (Image from lookfordiagnosis.com)

Throughout this summer, let’s continue to explore medical words since they are a rich source of roots. Sicca syndrome is a condition in which the body exhibits signs and symptoms of extreme dryness because of abnormalities which occur with various glands.

The most common cause of Sicca syndrome is the autoimmune disease called *Sjogren’s (shōgrən) syndrome. Certain drugs, prior radiation therapy to the head, and hepatitis have also caused this syndrome.

Sicca (sikə) comes from the Latin word siccus, meaning dry. However, many symptoms are described by Greek roots. For example, patients can have xerostomia (zirəˈstōmēə) and xerophthalmia (ziˌräfˈthalmēə). The Greek root xero– means dry. The Greek roots stoma and ophthalmo mean mouth and eye respectively. Xerophthalmia  means “dry eyes” and xerostomia means “dry mouth.”

*after H.S.C. Sjögren, Swedish ophthalmologist