Saturday, November 22, 2008

Terms for special use

Each branch of learning has its own special terms, words that may or may not make their way into the daily lexicon of users. Here are some such words from Geography; some are familiar, some not.

An archipelago is a large group of islands. The word comes from the Italian Archipelago, which again is derived from the Latin Egeopelagus, made up of ‘arkhi’ or ‘chief’ and ‘pelagos’ or ‘sea’. Originally, the word was used as a proper noun to refer to the Aegean Sea that has numerous islands, but later it came to be used for any group of islands.

A monadnock is an isolated hill or mountain that rises above a plain because it resisted erosion. The feature gets its name from Mount Monadnock, a peak in New Hampshire, whose name in Algonquian means isolated mountain.

A shoal, in geography, is a shallow area in a body of water or a sandbank or sandbar in the bed of a body of water, constituting a navigation hazard.

It comes from the Old English ‘sceald’ or ‘shallow’. The homonym shoal that refers to a school of fish or a crowd has a different origin, probably from the Dutch ‘schole’, meaning ‘band or troop’.

An isthmus is a narrow strip of land with water on each side, joining two larger landmasses. It can also be used for any narrow organ, passage or strip of tissue joining two large organs or cavities. Originally, ‘isthmus’ comes from the Greek word ‘isthmos’ or ‘neck of land’.

When a river takes a winding course, it is said to meander. A lane or road can also meander; so can a person. If a speaker proceeds speaking aimlessly without any clear goal, the word ‘meandering’ can be used as an adjective. Similarly, an aimless wanderer is also a meanderer. If a work of art has winding or interlocking lines, for example, as a mosaic often has, these lines are called ‘meanders’. The word ‘meander’ comes from the Latin ‘maeander’ that was derived from the name of a Greek river that was winding and was called ‘Maiandros’.