Saturday, November 23, 2002

Spreading wings

WORDS constantly team up with different elements to form new compounds. The creation of new contexts and situations means that such compounds are required all the time. One such instance is the word info, a popular colloquial abbreviation of information, an abbreviation that has dominated this century. Information originally came from the Latin informare, meaning shape, fashion or describe. Through the French enfourmer, Middle English adopted it as enforme in the sense of form the mind or teach. The sense of formation of the mind led to the word information. In 1971 came infosphere to refer to the whole area of information management and supply. At the beginning of the 1980s came a host of such words. Infotainment is the presentation of information as entertainment on television or through multimedia. An infomercial is a television or video commercial presented in the form of a documentary. Infotech came along soon as an abbreviation for information technology. If one is presented with a mass of indigestible information all at once, one can suffer from an infoglut and the perpetrator is guilty of an infodump. An infocentre provides information related to a special area. In the 1990s, the swift expansion of interest in the Internet and online communication spawned several terms. Infobahn became a word for the information superhighway. Infobahn is formed along the German autobahn, the word for a Swiss, German or Austrian motorway, made up of auto (motor) and bahn (highway). An information network on the Infobahn became an infonet. A computer-based information system became an infosystem and an infonaut would travel on such a system in order to hunt information.

Borrowed words
November 9, 2002
Multiple facts
October 26, 2002
October 12, 2002
Where did this one come from?
September 28, 2002
Who changed the meaning?
September 14, 2002
Who coins new words?
August 31, 2002
Current trends
August 17, 2002
August 3, 2002
Grandparent languages
July 20, 2002
Thank you computers!
July 6, 2002

Abuse has also become the second element of quite a few compounds. The word abuse comes from the Latin verb abuti: made up of ab, meaning wrongly, and uti, meaning to use. This led to the word abuse or misuse that reached English via Old French. In the 1970s came a spate of words in which abuse was used as a synonym for addiction; words like alcohol abuse, drug abuse, narcotics abuse, solvent abuse and substance abuse were created. Child abuse also came up in the context of the ill treatment of human beings. Later on, along came cocaine abuse, crack abuse and steroid abuse. With the proliferation of eating disorders and obesity came laxative abuse and snack abuse. With reference to the maltreatment of another person, there were a number of formations pinpointing the specific type of abuse, like physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, psychological abuse, ritual abuse and satanic abuse. With reference to the relationship involved spousal abuse, incestuous abuse, cohabitational abuse, sibling abuse and wife abuse followed. For the ill treatment of the aged came elder abuse and old age abuse.

These days the first element in such words names the thing or creature being abused: animal abuse, horse abuse, river abuse, vehicle abuse and even racket abuse in lawn tennis. The means of causing harm can become the first element as well, as in aerosol, mercury or chemical abuse to the environment.


Sanskrit originally used the word rakt or blood as an adjective for anything coloured, literally or metaphorically. Any one lost in love, for example, was rakt in love, i.e. coloured by love. With Hindi borrowing rakt as blood, the colour came to be identified as red in the literal sense. Hence, saffron or kesar being red came to be called rakt in Sanskrit. Quite a convoluted journey, isnít it?