Ass and Name
Zola and Zoilus
A few Neos
What's in a Nem?
Pleo III-Two More Pleons
Achron.. and Acroam..
Per IV--Perpotation et al.
Per and Pre--Prevenient
Perpense and Perpend
Epi I--Epiplexis, et al.
The Doric Column
Epi III--Episemon et al.
Building on "Pisci" and "Ichthyo"
Something funny happened to me on the way to the mini-essay I originally scheduled for today. I ran into another word that flashed its pretty colors my way. My plan for today had been to write something on "Nem" and entitle it, "What's in a Nem?" I still may get to it. But, in the meantime another word problem began to obtrude itself, and now I need to address it.
At first I thought this new word problem was easily controllable, an issue that I could comfortably dispatch in a few words with some insight and dash. I was going to write something on "Same Words," and reflect on words of identical meaning that both came into English but were built on different language roots--Latin and Greek. I was going to talk about "piscivorous" and "ichthyophagous," which everyone knows are words meaning fish-eating, the former from the Latin and the latter from the Greek. Both are good and sturdy English words but there is not a smidgen or scintilla of difference between them.
I sort of wondered if proponents of each word had their respective cheering section in 18th century England, such as "Tastes Good" and "Less Filling" have for whatever beer that is that is advertised on TV. It would be, however, as if someone would shout "Tastes Good" and another would holler, "Schmeckt Gut" before getting into a fight. No difference. That was the initial "problem" I was going to explore. Why have two words when even less than one would do? I was going to put it in the context of another Greek/Latin word, the rhetorical strategy of "catachresis/abusio," which I may get to some day, and write a nice and cute essay.
Best Laid Plans
Then the issue began to spin out of control, and here is what I have. I decided not to look at the phenomenon of same word and try to figure out why we have both "piscivorous" and "ichthyophagous," but to examine other words in English generated by each of the two roots, "pisci" and "ichthyo." Taking the former root, for example, we have pisculent, meaning "abounding in fish" ("ulent" is a great suffix to add to any word where you want something to be "in abundance"--such as calling the boss "stupidulent"). We also have piscicle, which is not a fish hanging down from the eaves and melting in the winter sun, but is a "little fish."
Piscicide is the killing of fish, while the common of piscary is the common law right of someone to fish in another person's waters. But the word isn't as obscure as it might seem. A piscina is a not simply a fish-pond but can also be a swimming venue. The swimming venue in the 2000 Olympic games was called the piscina. Ah, I dove more deeply into the word and discovered that a piscina is also a "perforated stone basin for carrying away the water used in rinsing the chalice and the hands of the priest." There were, I discovered, about 27 or so words in English that have been built on the root "pisci." I spent several minutes poring over these words, feeling that I was like Balboa looking at the Pacific for the first time.
Moving to "Ichthyo"
As Othello says when he meets up with Desdemona after evading the storm that destroyed the Turkish fleet, he had "too much of joy (Othello 2.1.197)." So, I had too much of joy with the discovery of Latin-derived fish words. I felt, though, I had to hasten on to "ichthyo." But, as usual, I was a bit distracted when I realized that "ichthyo" sits between two other fascinating words, "ichor" (the fluid stuff that flows from the gods, like our blood) and "icicle," with near neighbors of the latter being "icily" and "icing" (I was getting hungry, so I looked at this word), but I exercised an admirable discipline and returned to "ichthyo." When I looked at this root, however, I was stunned. Rather than 27 or so English words beginning with "ichthyo," about twice that many that were attested. There were six alone having to do with fish-eating or fish-eaters. (A few examples are ichthyophagian--which has nothing to do with the fish's sexual orientation--ichthyophagist, or one who eats fish, ichthyophagous, which we have met, and ichthyophagy, which is the practice of eating fish.
But then there were tons of other words, such as the expected ichthyology (which has its parallel in piscatology) and the difficult but fascinating ichthyoacanthotoxism which, before you go and panic, can be easily taken apart if you realize that "acantho" means "thorn" and "tox" means "poison," and you have "poisoning resulting from a venomous sting or bite of a fish."
Oops, I just realized this is getting long, so let's go onto the next mini-essay to complete my thoughts.
Copyright © 2004-2010 William R. Long