Sunday, June 22, 2008

Congratulations, Karielle!

Double congratulations are due our niece, Karielle. She not only graduated high school with flying colors. She was also chosen to the University of Missouri Dance Team, the Golden Girls. This is quite an accomplishment for anyone, but especially for an incoming freshman.

Congratulations, Karielle. We love you, and we are very proud of you.

University of Missouri website here.

A is for Antipodes

The first time I heard the word antipodes was in a class during my naval career. The word was mispronounced by the person who used it (and didn’t know what it meant). Everyone turned to me since I was known for an obsession with words. I had never heard it, but naturally had a dictionary close at hand and looked it up. We found out the proper pronunciation does not rhyme with Shanty Codes but rather with Euripides, putting the accent on the second syllable, i.e. an-TIP-uh-deez. The definition of the word is “any two places that are situated diametrically opposite one another on the earth's surface.” From Greek through Latin, the word means literally “the feet opposite.” So the people at the antipodes (on the other side of the earth) have their feet opposite us.

The Antipodes, when used as a proper noun, refers to Australia and New Zealand since they have their feet diametrically opposite to the people of England. British sailors apparently coined the word in the 19th century. (
Note: Strictly speaking Australia and New Zealand are not at the exact antipodes of Great Britain. Wikepedia has an interesting map and article here.)

The word antipodes can also refer to “the exact opposite or contrary of something” (as can antipode, a word coined by back-formation from antipodes).

Antipodes reminds me of a related "pod" word, tetrapod. Literally meaning "four feet," some 10,000 tetrapods were used in the construction of the Rota Naval Station. Carefully placed to provide a seawall to protect a large artificial harbor entrance, the tetrapod became the station's symbol. We were stationed in Rota for a total of 10 wonderful years.

The picture below is from the Stars and Stripes newspaper from April 26, 2006.

Ted Rohde ©Stars and Stripes
Rota, Spain, September 9, 1957: Huge concrete tetrapods are piled up on the beach at Rota, site of a new U.S.-Spanish naval base. The French-designed tetrapods, weighing between 8 and 25 tons each, were used to break up wave action and absorb the ocean's eroding energy.

For more information on the Rota Naval Station, check out the website here. (Warning to my family: don't spend too much time on this site. You'll get homesick!) (Note: The main Naval Station site seems to be down for some reason. I have substituted another web site.)

Saturday, June 21, 2008

A is for Australia

"Tempus fugit," as the ancient Italians were wont to say!

It has been over a week since my last post, so here goes:

Australia is a very special country to us because:

1) It's a very special country. Check out the official travel and tourism site here.

2) Australians have always been faithful friends and allies of our country. See my previous post here.
3) Our daughter lives there with her husband (who is from Australia) and their two children, as well as her husband's family, who have become very dear to us.
4) My mother had an uncle who immigrated to Australia and lived near Melbourne. We still have cousins there.
5) The unique flora and fauna that exist on this island continent and nowhere else in the world (otherwise, they wouldn't be unique flora and fauna. Duh!). For further info, check out this article and this article.
6) Infinitely many other reasons for which neither time nor space avail (obviously, since they're infinitely many!). Wikipedia is always a good place to start Internet exploration.
Getting back to the linguistics of the word (which is, after all, my purpose for going through the dictionary from A to Zed--have to say Zed, since I'm writing about Australia. Interestingly, though, it seems only in the U.S. do we name the last letter of the alphabet "Zee." Seems everyone else in the world says "Zed." You truly do learn quite a few new things every day!)
Terra australis incognita (literally, unknown southern land) was a phrase describing a southern land of legends going back at least as far as ancient Rome. Seems the land wasn't legendary, though! It just hadn't been discovered by the denizens of the northern hemisphere yet.
When I was a lad, my family in Ohio observed the Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights) on a few occasions. It's not something you forget. The Aurora Australis are the corresponding Southern Lights. For some amazing sights of Auroras (or Aurorae), both Southern and Northern, check out Youtube here.
The Australian flag also reflects Australia's southern location. The constellation represented on the right-hand side of the flag is the Southern Cross (Crux Australis).

More on Australia.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

A is for Alpaca

An alpaca is a domesticated South American mammal, related to the llama and having fine, long wool. It is one of four New World camelids (the family to which camels belong). Alpaca derives from the Aymara language (yeah, if you want more information about that language, follow the link. It is one of only a few native American languages with over a million speakers—actually, Aymara has over two million). The word camel goes all the way back to the Hebrew gamal.

The alpaca is closely related to (in fact, descended from) the vicuña. Here's a picture of these wild animals, who inhabit the high Andes. The word vicuña comes from the Quechua, the language of the ancient Inca empire, which is spoken to this day by over eight million people in six south American countries.

The paco vicuña is a cross between the gentle, domesticated alpaca and the wild vicuña. The fiber from the paco vicuña is of such high quality and so expensive that it was once reserved for Incan royalty. For more information about the paco vicuña, check out this article.

The llama is the best known of the South American camelids. There is a cute story about how the llama got its name. I originally read it in the book Native Tongues by Charles Berlitz. The story goes that when the Spaniards first came to South America and encountered the llama, they asked what it was called (in Spanish “¿Como se llama?”) Supposedly, the natives were confused and repeated the word llama over and over, convincing the questioners that the creature was called a llama!

Whether or not I like this story is immaterial. It seems that the story is apocryphal. Apparently, the Quechua word for llama is a word that sounds like—you guessed it—llama. So when the Spaniards asked the natives “¿Como se llama?” obviously asking what the animal was called, the natives responded, “Llama”!

Speaking of “what is this called” gives me an excuse to write about names and naming. We often think of names as arbitrary labels stuck on things to identify them. In fact, names are often closely associated with the inherent characteristics of the thing named. In Hebrew the phrase we translate “to name” is literally “to call its (his or her) name.” The naming of the animals was the assignment of a Hebrew word reflecting the basic nature of each animal. It wasn’t that the name was an arbitrary designation given by Adam but that Adam called the name (i.e. identified the name) of each animal.

Moreover, when reading about the naming of people in scripture, we find that the process of naming is one of calling into being the inherent nature or character of an individual, either in consonance with an event associated with the birth or as a prayer or prophecy of the future of the individual. In many cultures, names are carefully chosen to provide the maximum possibility of a good and prosperous future.
These are just a few thoughts about naming, a subject about which volumes could be (and have been) written. For just one, check out Marcia Prager's wonderful book The Path of Blessing.

The fourth, lesser known, and wild South American camelid is the guanaco. The name derives from a similar word in Quechua.

A year ago, I posted a little recap of our visit to the Estes Park Wool Market, which we visited last year with our daughter, Hannah. It was a fascinating day. You can read about it here. Over the course of the past year, I have noticed that I receive many hits from people looking for information and/or pictures of the South American camelids. That had something to do with my choosing alpaca as a word to highlight, but also I just think these animals are the most fascinating creatures.
Incidentally, there is still time to make it to the 2008 iteration of the Estes Park Wool Market, which is being held this weekend, June 14-15, 2008.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

A is for Alibris

I used to spend hours in bookstores (and rarely escaped without buying something). Even better than new bookstores, I loved used bookstores. The Internet changed all that. For years, I've been doing most of my book buying online. Occasionally I'll go in to a physical location to browse or if I need something right now, but not very often.

At first, I relied on, then found to be cheaper. Recently, I discovered, a used bookstore online. They have compiled a huge database of used books, millions of titles in thousands of bookstores around the country. Books in very good condition or better go for $1.99 and up. My first order was eight books, and they came from eight different locations. I was quite satisfied both with the timeliness of the shipment and the condition of the books. I recommend this site.

Orig: 6/4/08

Monday, June 02, 2008

A is for a Nadder

The word adder brings me to a class of words that I find quite interesting. They illustrate how languages evolve, not only through growth but by corruption and deterioration. For example, the original form of the word adder in the Old English was a nædre. In Middle English a naddre became an addre. Once used generically for any snake, its meaning has been narrowed to a particular type of serpent.

Other words in this class formed by a process known as false splitting or juncture loss are apron (a napron from Old French naperon), umpire (from Middle English a noumper, originally French noumpere), and orange (see the dictionary entry for the fascinating story of how this word came to us from Dravidian through Sanskrit, Persian, Italian, and French through a similar process of false splitting).

Examples of false splitting occur in the opposite direction as well. A nickname derives from an eke name, which was "an additional name" in Middle English.

A newt comes to us from an eute in Middle English being mistaken for a neute.

Apparently the opposite of a billy goat originally was an anny goat, which became a nanny goat, whether through the process of false splitting or because nanny is a nickname (an eke name) for Anne.
Orig: 6/2/08

A is for Anti- but also Ante-

Another one of those building blocks that we use to form words in English is the prefix "anti-". I think most of us know that it means opposite or against. We have many examples: antiaging, antidisestablishmentarianism (sorry, couldn't resist!), antifreeze, anti-inflammatory, antipathy, antipodes (we'll explore this one later), and many more.
There's a second ante-, usually pronounced the same as the first anti-, but its meaning is entirely different. Ante- means "prior to, earlier, in front of , before." Some examples:

antebellum——before the war
antecedent——something that goes before
antediluvian——before the flood
ante meridian——before noon (A.M.)
antemortem——preceding death
antenatal ——before birth
antepenultimate——before the next to the last

Note: Although the anti-/ante- difference usually holds, there are a very few cases in which the before (i.e. ante-) prefix becomes anti- in English, for example anticipate and antipasto (which is not "against the meal" but "before the meal"). I used to think antipasto meant before the pasta, and I always wondered why the "a" in pasta was changed to an "o" in antipasto. It turns out that the pasto root means meal or food. Of course, the first course of an Italian meal often consists of pasta, so technically I guess antipasto is before the pasta, too! Excellent. Mangia! Mangia!

Orig: 6/2/08

Sunday, June 01, 2008

A is for Adit

All of you crossword puzzlers (cruciverbalists) out there will know this word for a mine entrance—adit—because it's a fine crossword building block—two common consonants that work as a first, last or middle letter and two vowels. It fits nicely into a crossword puzzle.
If you don't do crosswords, you may never have run across this word. You're welcome!
(I found out from my trusty dictionary that the word adit means specifically "an almost horizontal mine entrance" and that it comes from the Latin aditus, access, past participle of adire, to approach from ad, to, toward and ire, to go.)
Trivial side note: Ad was one of the first words we learned in first-year Latin. We learned it as "ad with the accusative," indicating the case for the object of the preposition. The prefix ad- in English is one of those useful "bits and pieces" that help us figure out the meaning of a word when no dictionary is handy (heaven forbid that should happen very often!).
Orig: 6/1/08