Saturday, August 10, 2002


ANY scholar will define a vowel as a speech sound produced without any obstruction of the air passing through the vocal tract, a schoolchild will quickly say ‘aeiou’ and a scrabble-player will talk about the importance of vowels in making words. It is, indeed, tough to think of words without vowels, even though they are just ‘aeiou’. Rather, it is easier to find words that use all the vowels. Let’s look at some of them.

The first word has the vowels in their alphabetical order. Abstemious means to be sparing while eating and drinking. It comes from the Latin ab (from) and temetum (alcoholic liquor). Arterious refers to anything artery-like, whether it is the circulatory system which helps in the transportation of blood or the roots of a plant. It is derived from artery, which is derived from the Greek airein (arise) via the Latin arteria.

Grandparent languages
July 20, 2002
Thank you computers!
July 6, 2002
Computer-created words
June 22, 2002
Fiddling with words, again!
June 8, 2002
Fiddling with words
May 25, 2002
May 11, 2002
Words in twos
April 27, 2002
April 13, 2002
March 16, 2002
And the romance goes on...
March 2, 2002
Less etymology, more romance
February 16, 2002
Random tales"
February 2, 2002

Subcontinental is another such word that refers to anything related to a large, distinguishable landmass within a continent. It comes from the Latin sub (close to) and terra continens (continuous land). Annelidous is an adjective that describes anything worm-like. It is derived from Annelida, the group name of all segmented worms. Annelida comes from the Latin anellus, meaning ring, or segment in this case. Calling someone annelidous is definitely uncomplimentary — another word with all the vowels. It is a derivative of compliment. The word compliment did not mean praise originally. Its Latin root complementum means completion or fulfilment that gives the sense of fulfilment of the requirements of courtesy. In the long run, praise too became a matter of courtesy! But, as long as praise is not facetious, it’s welcome! As, a facetious person would treat all issues with deliberately inappropriate humour. Initially, facetious carried no negative tones. Its origin is from the French facetus, meaning witty.

Armiger, a person entitled to heraldic arms, gives armigerous, the adjective used to refer to such a person. Armiger is from the Latin arma (arms) and gerere (to bear), thus literally meaning, bearing arms. Quorum, the number of members needed to make a meeting valid comes from the Latin expression quorum vos, meaning ‘of whom we wish that you be’. It gives inquorate that refers to a meeting attended by too few people to be valid.

Ossuaries are rooms or containers used to store the remains of the dead. It is the plural form of ossuary, which comes from the Latin ossuarium — formed from the Latin oss or bone. Uvarovite is an emerald green variety of garnet that contains chromium. It is named after the Russian statesman Count Sergei S. Uvarov.


Indian etymology accepts the potential value of a single sound. Perhaps this is borrowed from the Indian philosopher who calls both sound and Brahma akshara (imperishable). The rishis had total faith in the meaningfulness of individual sounds. Patanjali, one of the first grammarians of the world, believed that the nucleus of speech is a sound. The Chandgoya Upanishad explains the word satya as sa (immortal) + ta (mortal) + ya (that which determines) — meaning that which determines the mortal and the immortal. In Sanskrit, almost all individual letters carry meaning and are considered potential words.

This feature was published on August 3, 2002