Saturday, August 11, 2012

A Plethora of Greek

Soon after I became somewhat skilled in English, I began to think of that language as a Mississippi of languages—thus carrying a lot of foreign stuff. My first view of American soil came to me way off New Orleans when I arrived to these shores. At the time the ship that brought us, the USS General Muir, was still in the ocean with nothing but water visible. I’d spent the two-week trip watching the water daily—and now, suddenly, the water had turned a dull brown. I was watching the outflow of the Mshi ziibi, which is the Ojibwa way of saying big river. The poet Rumi once wrote a book titled Fihi Ma Fihi, which translates as In it What is In it, a nice way of describing the Mississippi or the English language. In it is a lot of Greek, among other things. This morning I came across the word apotropaic on Laudator (“A Mosaic Depicting Envy”)—one of those words I ought to know because I’d looked it up more than once, but the word, these days, appears infrequently enough so that I forget. It means “warding off evil,” thus the effect of a hex (the origin of that is German). Apotropaic means “to turn away, to avert,” the evil being implied. That made me think that we have a plethora of Greek in English—but that word, much used, came spontaneously—along with a little chuckle when I heard my mind saying it. That word, in turn, was dropped into the Mississippi by medical people meaning “an excess of body fluids,” in the presence of which we have an urge to pee. Now pee itself is a euphemism for “to piss,” which comes from the vulgar Latin pissiare. A plethora of Latin too. And not just in English. In Hungary, as a little boy, I learned to say pi-pi—which indicated that it was time to relieve the plethora in my little body. Body? Finally we’ve gotten to a word that originated in the Old English bodig, meaning chest or trunk.  My trustworthy source? Online Etymology Dictionary. The words in that website's name? Well, Latin, Greek, and Latin.

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