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!

 

 

 

homonyms (hä-mə-nims)

homonymsThe English language is full of homonyms, or more specifically homographs, homophones, heterographs, and heteronyms. This is enough to make your head spin! Such words serve to make English one of the most difficult languages to learn. They are the bane of my existence, and probably yours too.

Homonyms are words that are pronounced the same or have the same spelling but have different definitions. The word homonym comes from the Greek roots homo- meaning same and -nym meaning name.  Homographs and homophones are a subset of homonyms.

Homographs are words that have the same spelling, but have different meanings. The Greek root -graph- means to write, so homograph can be translated into “same writing.” An example would be “bat” (animal) and “bat” (baseball bat).

Heteronyms are a class of homographs. The Greek root hetero- means other or different so heteronyms are words  with “different names.” They share the same spelling, but have different pronunciations and meanings. An example is “minute” (time unit) and “minute” (pronounced mīn.yüt – meaning very small).

Homophones are words that sound the same but are defined differently. Homophone literally means “same sound” (-phon is the Greek root for sound). If the homophones are spelled the same, they are also homographs but if they are spelled differently, they are called heterographs.

Heterographs are words that have “different writing”. They have the same pronunciation, but different spellings and definitions. “Knight” (soldier) and “night” (evening) are examples of heterographs.

For the next several posts, I’d like to delve further into this category of English words. To help me explore this topic, I’ve enlisted the help of some of my fellow National Spelling Bee participants who have volunteered to write about a pair of words that they find to be particularly irksome.

Are there any homonyms that always manage to trick you?

 

 

 

 

 

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.

-tara (tarə)

Hello everyone! As I study for the 2017 Scripps National Spelling Bee, there are certain words that naturally catch my attention. I am particularly intrigued by words that contain my name. I didn’t realize that tara could be found in so many words originating from different languages.

Tarantism (tarənˌtizəm) is an uncontrollable urge to dance, and tarantella (tarənˈtelə) is an Italian folk dance. Both these words are named after Taranto, a city in Italy.  A taradiddle (tarəˈdidəl) is a small fib. No one knows where this word originates from, but it was first used around 1796.

One of my favorite words is taramosalata (tärəˌmōsəˈlä-tə). This is a Greek fish spread and it originates from Greek. A tuatara (tüəˈtärə) is a large reptile commonly found in New Zealand. This word originates from Maori, a Polynesian language.

The word tarantara is an imitative word that mimics the sound of a bugle. This is actually a variation of the Latin word tantara (tanˈtarə).

Tara means star not only in Sanskrit, but also in many other Indian languages, such as Hindi and Telugu. So there you have it, a post all about my name! I hope you enjoyed this post and I hope you will indulge my narcissism especially since I recently celebrated my birthday!

cynophilist (sī-näfələ̇st)

Happy Valentine’s Day! We have a new love in our lives and I have been very excited to write this post for many months. In September of 2016, we brought home a 12-week-old Tibetan Spaniel puppy. We named her Coco Cuddles, and she is adorable, sweet, and cuddly.

Tibetan Spaniels are a rather uncommon breed, but we have found that this particular breed suits our family perfectly. Coco is loving, lively, alert, smart, playful, and sometimes mischievous. As their name would suggest, Tibetan Spaniels originated in Tibet. They are a very old breed; they are depicted in Asian art dating back to 1100 BC.

Tibetan Spaniels can be many different colors with various markings, but our Coco is  parti colored, meaning that she is a mix of different colors – she is white with light sable markings. She is almost 8 months old now and weighs 8 pounds. Her adult weight will be between 13 and 15 pounds, so she won’t really gain much more weight.

By now, you’ve probably guessed that the word cynophilist has something to do with dogs! Cynophilist comes from the Greek roots cyn-, meaning dog, and phil-, meaning love so the word means “dog lover.”

Are any of you cynophilists?

To see more pictures of baby Coco, go to Briallu Tibetan Spaniels – Coco’s litter name was Penelope.

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!