Every Word Tells a Story 5 - Elixir, Electric and Ephemera
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The fifth element
In our trip through the alphabet ( a word that is a conjoined twin of the first two Greek letters alpha and beta!) we arrive at ‘E’. The fifth letter of the alphabet and the second vowel in our journey has spawned many words to choose from.
Before we look at the beautiful dawn from the East, check out for any Eavesdroppers , contemplate on the Ephemeral nature of the poor mayfly, consider the power of theElectricity, drink the Elixir of life and sleep like Endymion, Lets Enthusiastically contemplate some of the prefixes E has given to our English language.
Knowing the prefixes and suffixes help us to identify the nature and meaning of the words. Many of these stem from Greek or Latin and are instantly recognisable from familiar words.
Some Prefixes beginning with E
Out, Out of
Eject, Evict, Eviscerate
Greek ἐκτός (ektos), “outside”
Ectoplasm, Ectocervix, Ectoderm, Ectopic
From the Latin ego - , I , Related to self
In, Into, on, onto and also an intensifier
Emboss, Embankment, Enfold, Enrage
Greek ἔνδον (endon, “inner”, “internal”). Inside
Endoscope, Endocervix, Endocrine
Greek ἐπί (epi, “on top of”). above, over, on top of
Equilateral, Equidistant, Equilibrium
Greek εὖ (eu, “well, good”)
Eugenics, Eulogy, Euthanasia
Greek ἐξ (eks, “out of, from”), Out of, now also -former
Exsanguination, Extract, Ex-Wife
From AncientGreek ἔξω (exō, “outer, external”). Latin exter- Outside, Beyond
Exobiology, Extraterrestrial, Extramarital
The word east comes from several allied sources. While it has come to represent one of the cardinal points of the compass, its origins generally mean sunrise or dawn. The Greek – Eos , the Latin- Aurora , and the Germanic Eostre all represent the Goddess of Dawn . They may all stem from a Indo-European origin. The ancient Indian goddess Usha is the representation of dawn and she is mentioned in one of oldest Vedic texts, the Rig Veda.
East - from ancient times has come to mean the direction in which dawn breaks.
The Goddess of Dawn , Eos is often depicted as heralding the arrival of her brother Helios in the sky. She fell in love with the mortal Tithonus and asked Zeus to grant him immortality. However she forgot to ask for eternal youth so Tithonus lived forever, growing older and older till he was a shrivelled babbling wreck begging for death to overcome him while Eos, being a Titan, was always young and eternal.
In later versions of the myth he eventually turned into a cicada, begging endlessly for death. The Greek Gods always knew how to have fun with a mortal!
This word that means secretly listening in on others conversation has a curious origin.
The Eaves of the roof are the projecting edges that protect the walls of the house from rainwater. When it rains the water collects and drops from the eaves outside, and the ground where the water falls was called the eaves drip. In ancient Anglo Saxon law the landowner was prohibited from building anything at less than 2 feet from the boundary of his land to prevent eavesdrip damage on neighbour’s property.
So anyone who was standing just outside the wall listening in was called a eaves dropper after the ground he/she was standing on. The same law also punished any skulking eavesdroppers.
What now means anything pertaining to electricity originally comes from the Greek word for amber, (ηλεκτρον ) Electron .
Amber is a fossilized tree resin that has a fascinating history. But the reason electron came to mean electric or charged material is because when rubbed, amber generates static electricity or a charge. Ancient Greeks noticed that amber attracted smaller articles when rubbed with fur.
In 1600 William Gilbert , an English scientist, published his treatise De Magnete and coined the term electricus , referring to this property of attracting small particles after being rubbed.
The Greeks named amber probably owing to its yellowish red hue, as Elektron is also derived from one of the names for the sun –god, Elektor.
Amber itself is a precious stone known to mankind since prehistoric times and came to popularity again recently after scientists realised they could extract any prehistoric DNA from the insects that are trapped inside this material, frozen in time. This concept is explored in the book and the film, Jurassic Park.
It comes from the Arabic Ambar that was the name given to sperm-whale oil known in french as Amber Gris ( Grey amber) . This waxy substance from the intestines of sperm whales was used to produce perfumes.
Yellow amber can be found washed up along Baltic coast line, as was the ambergris from the whale regurgitate ( disgusting!)
As the Fossilized amber was also found washed along the shores with Ambergris, there was confusion amongst those who found this and they called it Amber -jaune or yellow amber.
Talking about insects, consider the genus ephemeroptera , the humble mayfly. Its adult lifespan is between few hours to one day. Such transience does not bother the mayfly and it sure lives its life to the full, completing its task of flying and travelling, eating, having sex and eventually dying peacefully in the river where it is born.
The word ephemera comes from the Greek and used to mean things that last for a day and has gradually come to mean any transitory material. I love the sound of ephemera, it has such a lyrical quality and a hint of sadness.
In collectors terms it now means any printed material of transitory nature, such as greeting cards, playbills, bookmarks, tickets, posters etc.
Anything Ephemeral is transitory, not long lasting and is opposite of Eternal.
Docmo's Etymology of Anatomical Terms
- Every Body Part Tells a Story #1: A History of Anatomical Terms
The human body has fascinated and educated humanity over centuries. From the earliest morbid fascination leading to the secret study of cadavers and...
- Every Body Part Tells a Story #2: A History of Anatomical Terms
In the last chapter we met Atlas and his eternal burden and discovered the reasons how the Oracle of Delphi came to name some lymph nodes in the neck. We...
Talking of Eternity, The ‘Elixir of life’ has fascinated ancient and modern civilisations such as Chinese, Indian, Greek, Arabic and Egyptian as well as preoccupying the minds of Medieval alchemists.
Many have ironically died from consuming potions made of various toxic metals such as mercury, believing them to be elixirs of life.
The birth of modern chemistry owes a lot to these alchemical pursuits as the passion for converting base metals to gold lead to inventions and discoveries that would have otherwise not been found.
Variously known as Ambrosia, Amrit, Soma, Pool of Nectar and Fountain of Life, the pursuit of a magical elixir that gives us immortality is still a fascination for humanity.
The word ‘elixir’ owes its origins to first the Arabic Al- iksir meaning an effective recipe , usually a sweet liquid containing any medicinal preparation to mask the unpleasant taste of the dry medicinal powers. The iksir itself comes from Greek ‘Xerion’ or a powder for drying wounds- from ‘Xeros’ dry.
The elixir is medicinal terms contains at least one main ingredient dissolved in a solvent that is 15 to 20% alcohol and can be any liquid medicinal preparation from expectorants to antipyretics.
Like the story of Eos and Tithonus , the other pairing that has fascinated poets and artists alike is that of Selene and Endymion .
In Greek mythology, Endymion was an Aeolian shepherd with such handsome looks that moon Goddess Selene ( Diana to the Romans) fell in love with him. She loved his sleeping form so much that she asked Zeus to (a) keep him young forever and (b) keep him asleep forever so she can admire his 'sleeping beauty' always. Zeus granted both these wishes, as he just loved messing up the mortals and playing games.
So poor Endymion, is forever young and forever asleep in a cave at Mt Latmus, that Selene visits every night.
Endymionis somnum dormire, "to sleep the sleep of Endymion" was so popular in ancient times that the myth of Selene and Endymion was often carved on the sarcophagi or ancient coffins to represent eternal sleep.
As John Keats says in his brilliant poem, Endymion,
A thing of beauty is a joy for ever:
Its loveliness increases; it will never
Pass into nothingness; but still will keep
A bower quiet for us, and a sleep...
Enthusiasm indicates divine inspiration. This represented by its word origin.
The word was meant to represent mortals possessed by Gods – en - meaning inside and – theos, God.
So literally, a God inside you.The modern meaning of enthusiasm means someone who is inspired, energetic , adventurous and active.
So may you remain enthusiastic in your pursuits, dear reader. May you always be divinely inspired.
Other Chapters in this series...
- Every Word Tells a Story #1: Atoms, Assassins and Asteroids
- Every Word Tells a Story #2: Bibliophiles, Biscuits and Buccaneers
- Every Word Tells a Story #3: Chocolate, Calligraphy and Catastrophe
- Every Word Tells a Story #4: Devil, Damask and Doppelganger
- Every Word Tells a Story #6: Frisbee, Filigree and Funambulist
- Every Word Tells a Story #7: God, Gold and Gobbledygook
- Every Word Tells a Story #8: Harlequin, Halcyon and Hocus-Pocus
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Copyright © Mohan Kumar 2011