Saturday, June 30, 2001

Random words

Remember every word

Opens another door, an

Opportunity to view, to

Travel down time, to

See man’s journey.

The above lines are a humble attempt to exemplify an acrostic, a type of linguistic entertainment where the first letter of each line when joined together spell out a word, name or sentence. Acrostic comes from the Greek acro (end or point) and stic (line of verse).

We often go into rhapsodies over some good food or art. Rhapsody has come to mean a state of extreme happiness. At the outset of its existence, the word had very little to do with joy. A rhapsody originally was a lyrical or emotionally charged poem, song or piece of music.It came from the Greek rhaptein (to sew) and oide, (song). A rhapsody is thus, literally, a poem consisting of songs that have been stitched together.

Mortal practices, immortal words
June 9, 2001
Passage of words
May 26, 2001
Traces of the past
May 12, 2001
April 28, 2001
Lost origins
April 14, 2001
Words and society
March 31, 2001
Origin of expressions
March 17, 2001
Varied origins
March 3, 2001
Words around the house
February 17, 2001
Words around the house
February 3, 2001
Medical terms
January 20, 2001
Painting the town red
January 6, 2001
Expressions from seas
December 23, 2000
Time capsule of words
December 16, 2000
New words
December 2, 2000

An officer’s batman has nothing to do with a bat or the officer’s batting. This word goes back to the times when army officers travelled on horseback and their baggage was also transported by horses. Batman comes from the Latin bastum (packsaddle), a word which French borrowed in the form of bat or bast. English borrowed it subsequently, making it batman.

Since the two commonly go together, it does seem that pen and pencil are words of related origin. But, in reality, pencil comes from the Latin pencillus, meaning painter’s brush or, literally, little tail. Pen, however, goes back to the Latin penna, meaning quill pen, literally, feather.

Text and pretext are also related etymologically. Text comes from the Latin texere, meaning to weave. The knowledge of this origin gives an enhanced sensitivity to well-written texts as well-woven works of art. The ‘pre’ of pretext comes from the Latin prae (before), giving pretext the meaning — to weave in front of them. The past participle of the word was praetextum (outward display or concealment of truth). Pretext takes on a more negative sense with this little bit of history.

How are surcharge and surname related? Sur means over, so over the normal charge is a surcharge. And, the name which is over and above your individual name is your surname.

At times when you feel that scapegoat is your middle name, don’t fret, for, at least your plight dates back to the Old Testament of the Bible. According to the episode in the Bible, on the day of Atonement, two goats were chosen; one as a pure sacrifice to the Lord, while the second one was to be released alive into the wilderness. On the second goat’s head were symbolically laid the sins of the people. In 1530, when Reverend William Tyndale translated the Bible into colloquial English he used the word scape instead of escape for the goat which survived. This gave the word scapegoat. Tyndale had hoped to make the Bible a widely available text but the Church burnt his books, put him to death at the stake, making him the first human scapegoat.


As has been said time and again, language belongs to the user and the user modifies it according to the social customs and conditions of the age. In earlier times, when women did not work outside the house, a wife was known as bharya, one who is looked after and provided for. The husband was bharta, one who does the looking after and provides for the bharya. These Hindi words are now obsolete, with the wife these days often providing for the husband and the husband becoming a house-husband.

— Deepti

This feature was published on June 23, 2001