Sunday, June 5, 2011

Two Curious Pens

The two I have in mind are the peninsula and the penumbra. How did I get here? I passed a car with the interesting vanity plate GOINGUP.If this car hadn’t also had a sticker that mentioned the Upper Peninsula, that is to say Michigan’s UP, I might have thought that the plate’s owner was promoting his or her own upward mobility. But that second sticker informed me that this family probably travels north on beautiful weekends. But then, passing on, the word peninsula got stuck in the grooves of my mind (that happens on walks) and I couldn’t trace the origin of that pen. By the time I got home, I’d added penumbra to the list—and I’d come to wonder if the insula and the umbra had the same or a different kind of pen. Online Etymology Dictionary to the rescue. (Must remember to make a donation to OED—I use it so much!) The pen in these two instances turns out to be of Latin origin. The word is paene, meaning almost. Almost an island. Almost a shadow. And here I was hoping, instead, that the pen was mightier even than the island. Not so. And as for the pen itself, it also comes from the Latin, the word penna, feather. Light as a feather and mightier than the sword.


  1. This is the penultimate blog I shall read tonight.

  2. Very nice touch, there, Brigitte! I'd overlooked that one. And it's surprising. I always thought that penultimate meant absolutely beyond the ultimate, but it turns out to mean "almost final." Live and learn -- words!

  3. I saw the beautiful vessel the Presque Isle on Thursday passing under the Blue Water Bridge, and it reminded me that "presque isle" - of which there are many - means the same thing: almost an island, but in French.

    I remember spending the night in Cedarville Quarry during the 90's when the Presque Isle loaded limestone. It was a boat that took a long time to load. It was a masterpiece of machinery: the boat and the loading dock and the quarry.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.