Well, that excursion got us quite far from word origins, so I solemnly swear to return to the sheep. A 15th-century French farce featured a lawsuit over some stolen sheep, but the litigants kept wandering away from the point. The exasperated judge kept saying “revenons à ces moutons!” — let’s get back to the sheep — and it’s been slang for “return to the subject” ever since. (And if you believe I’m really going to live up to that promise, please contact me to inquire about the TWENTY MILLION DOLLARS IN A NIGERIAN BANK ACCOUNT THAT IS WAITING JUST FOR YOU.)
Yet another hat is also named for the female title character of a 19th-century play. A trilby (which looks sort of like a Tyrolean hat) was worn by the eponymous heroine of the stage version of du Maurier’s novel.
Actually, the experts seem to think that os- (mouth) and or- (speak) are unrelated, and that the association between them is because Latin os had or- as its root form. If this is true, then oracle, oratory, oration, adore, etc. are all “speech” words and not related to the “mouth” words like oral and orifice. Osculate, to kiss, is an obvious “mouth” word, but an unlikely relative is usher, a door-keeper, from Latin ostium, door.
By the way, one could win a few bets by asking people if any common personal names come from extra-terrestrial aliens. The answer is yes — Michael, Gabriel, Rafael, and all their masculine and feminine variants. It is hard to come up with a definition of “ET” aliens that doesn’t include angels. They are an intelligent non-human life form, not indigenous to Earth, with abilities and lifestyle very different from humans. Since angels as usually depicted have six appendages — two arms, two legs, and two wings — it would seem they are more closely related to insects than to mammals, all of which have or had only four. (The only common mammal with six appendages is of course the centaur, although at least one flying horse has been reported in the literature.) If genetic engineering proceeds as rapidly as it now seems, it won’t be too long before some mad scientist manages to create a flying pig just to show off. The newspaper headline, of course, will be “Swine Flew!” (Disney-style fairies tend to have two sets of wings, so Tinkerbell must be related to a spider or an octopus.)
Actually, in Judeo/Christian and Muslim literature, there are several different forms of heavenly being. “Angel” is used only for the lowest order, and as mentioned above, they commonly look like humans with two wings. None of the rest look remotely human according to the Bible; the highest ranks (continually praising God at the throne) are the Seraphim (six-winged snakes), the Cherubim (four faces and four wings), and the Ophanim or Thrones), which have the shape of a wheel within a wheel, with the rims studded with eyes. This picture of Ezekiel’s vision shows William Blake’s best guess at a Cherub and an Ophanim before God’s throne.
The Acropolis of Athens wasn’t meant to be defended. In ancient times, a walled city could not be taken except by starvation or treachery, but Athens made itself essentially siege-proof by having a strong navy and then building the famous long walls connecting the city to its port of Piraeus so that it could be supplied by sea indefinitely. (Cf. Constantinople, built on a peninsula, whose triple walls protected the city on the landward side for over a thousand years until the invention of cannons.)
The most impregnable fortress in Greece was not Athens but Acrocorinth, situated on an 1,800-foot-high sheer monolith towering above the Isthmus of Corinth. For two thousand years, whoever occupied that rock cut Greece in half. Acrocorinth and two other powerful fortresses in northern Greece were known as the “Fetters of Greece” — the Macedonians, Romans, Byzantines, and Turks only bothered to garrison the three fetters, since no revolt or invasion could succeed as long as they were held. (For completeness’ sake, the other two were Chalcis in Boeotia and Demetrius in Thessaly.)
Meanwhile, Akron is perfectly good Greek for “high point” and is geographically appropriate — it straddles the continental divide between the watersheds of the Atlantic (via the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence) and the Gulf of Mexico (via the Ohio and Mississippi), and it’s the seat of Summit County, Ohio.
Greek polis (city), seen in acropolis, metropolis (mother city), and cosmopolitan (citizen of the world) is also Indo-European, because it’s the same word as the -pore in Singapore (Lion City), as well as the -pur on the end of cities in India — Kanpur, Jodhpur, and hundreds more. Constantinople has polis on the end, and when the Turks took over, it was renamed Istanbul, still the same ending but borrowed from Sanskrit. Minneapolis is half Algonkian and half Greek.
Even so, that’s a better fraction than Athens, which isn’t a Greek word at all. The city, of course, is named for grey-eyed Athena, goddess of wisdom, strategy, and technology. Even the ancient Greeks recognized that she was one of the “old gods” like Gaea and Chronos; Zeus, Hera, and so on are explicitly referred to as the “new gods” in Homer. Nobody has ever found what language “Athena” might be — one guess is that it’s a reversal of the ancient Egyptian goddess Enatha, who was mother of the Sun.
Before we get entirely off the subject of apples, cider is regarded as a humble drink of the rural countryside, which makes it all the more surprising that the word is from shekar, a general Semitic term for any intoxicating beverage other than wine. Greek borrowed it from Hebrew and Latin from Greek by way of Bible translations (it is rendered sicera in the Vulgate), but it had become restricted to fermented apple juice even before English picked it up. (Modern versions of the Bible usually say “strong drink” to translate the Hebrew word.)
Still on the subject of Semitic drinks, the Arabic root responsible for coffee was also their original word for wine. It is assumed the common meaning was “dark beverage”. Eventually both Hebrew and Arabic adopted the vine/wine words, q.v.
Of all the “care” words, curious has had the most curious career. It literally meant careful or painstaking, the only meaning of Latin curiosus. Over time, when applied to a person it has also meant difficult to satisfy or fastidious, cautious, careful, attentive, accurate, and finally inquisitive (the current sense). Applied to an object, it has meant made with art or care, delicate, elaborate, intricate, precise, skilled, exquisite, noteworthy, and (the current sense) odd or unusual. A curio is shortened from curiosity in the modern sense — an oddity.
These days one can get a pedicure or manicure (foot or hand care) at a spa. That’s a generalization from the resort of Spa, Belgium, famous for its medicinal waters. It was “medicinal” because it tasted horrible, of course. Many other sites blessed with foul water (Bath and Epsom, England, Marienbad, Czech Republic, Baden-Baden, Germany, and Saratoga Springs, New York being perhaps the most obvious) got rich that way. If it was volcanically heated, so much the better. Cf. Hot Springs, Arkansas and Warm Springs, Georgia. The medicinal spring at Epsom was saturated with magnesium sulphate, now usually called Epsom salts. Saratoga Springs once had the largest hotel in the world.
By the way, the Belgian watering place is pronounced “Spaw”, and it was spelled that way in English for 250 years.
Surprisingly, the word mavens insist that care itself is not related to cura! That word is Germanic and meant to lament. The ie root meant to cry out; it is also seen in Gaelic slogan (sluagh-ghairm, army cry) and Latin garrulous.
To confuse things even further, an unrelated Indo-European kar- root meant to desire or love, which led to Latin caress, cherish, and charity, the Sanskrit Kama Sutra, and Germanic whore! (This last is presumably a euphemism, since it literally means “dear, sweetheart”. Cf. tart, which originally meant a delicious pastry, then a pretty girl or sweetheart, and finally (about 1880) a prostitute.)
Digressing slightly, hinge once was a two-syllable word with a hard /G/, so that the plural “hinges” sounded more or less like the tennis player Martina Hingis. This pronunciation makes it more obvious that hinge is a derivative of hang. The proper participle is “hanged”, but in Middle English, the verb began to be declined hing, hang, hung in imitation of sing/sang/sung, with the weak hanged reserved, as now, for the act of execution, presumably because of the archaic wording of a judge’s sentence “… to be hanged by the neck until dead”. Stonehenge is Old English for “hanging stone”. There were several natural hanging or balanced rocks elsewhere in Britain called stone henges, in addition to the famous prehistoric man-made ring on Salisbury Plain. (The change from “-eng-” to “-ing-” is normal; the original “senge”, “weng”, “crenge”, and “frenge”, for example, have become modern singe, wing, cringe, and fringe.)
Getting back to stone henges, there is a funny anecdote about Logan Rock, an 80-ton stone balanced on a 100-foot spire in Cornwall, which could be rocked back and forth by hand. (The rock was not named for a person; Cornish log means to move to and fro, and there are several other “logging stones” or “Logan-stones” in Britain.) In 1824 a certain Lt. Goldsmith of the Royal Navy and some of his crew, presumably influenced by alcohol, decided it would be fun to tip the rock into the sea. The public was so outraged that the Admiralty ordered Lt. Goldsmith to put it back at his own expense, an effort that nearly bankrupted him. It took seven months and sixty men to get the stone back up on its perch, but it never could be balanced again to be movable.
Latin spectrum meant “apparition” or“ghost”, a sense still seen in specter and spectral. The colors-and-prism sense of a spectrum is due to Newton. An early sense of a spectacle was a glass window (“the castle’s throne room had a pair of spectacles”), hence the current plural use for eyeglasses. Something spectacular is, of course, worth looking at. Latin speculari meant to spy out, observe, or study, hence English speculate and the medical speculum.
A few other “look” words are not quite as obvious. A gyroscope is evidently a compound of Greek giro-, to turn, but “see a turn” doesn’t seem to make sense until you know that the original gyroscope was invented by Foucault to demonstrate the rotation of the Earth, since the axis of the instrument stays stable while the Earth rotates underneath it. (Every science museum in the world has a Foucault pendulum which likewise demonstrates the Earth’s rotation while you watch.) Both sniperscope and snooperscope are not only Greek-Latin blends, they logically should mean an instrument for observing snipers or snoopers, which in reality only happens if you look in the front end of it while it’s in use. Kaleidoscope was coined by the inventor from Greek kalo-, beautiful, and a stereoscope “looks at solid objects”. Stethoscope is from Greek stethos, chest, but the gadget has nothing to do with vision. There, the “look at” definition has been generalized to “observe” or “learn about”.
To expect is to “look out”, while conspicuous means “quite visible”, to prospect is to “look forward”, to suspect is to “look underneath” (the surface of things), inspectors “look intensively”, retrospection and introspection are looking backwards or inwards, to respect something is to examine it closely, a circumspect person carefully “looks around”, etc. etc. etc. Cf. the famous inscription on the tomb of Sir Christopher Wren in his masterpiece, St. Paul’s Cathedral in London: Lector, si monumentum requiris, circumspice, — “Reader, if you seek his monument, look around.” Some wag “translated” circumspice as “Sir! Come, spy, see!”, which is right up there with the person who submitted an “Alfred David” to a court in connection with a request to “Have His Carcass”. (See the section on Folk Etymology for many more examples of this sort of thing, although I have to point out that “have his carcass” is in fact a legitimate translation of habeas corpus.)
Still on the subject of watching over things, overlook now has opposite meanings — to watch closely and to fail to see. Oversee also once had both definitions, as its noun oversight still does.