Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Happy Families

The other day I mentioned that conspirators are, etymologically, those who breathe together, just as inspiring is breathing in, expiring breathing out, perspiring breathing through and so on and so forth with transpire, respire et al.

There's something lovely about seeing these families of words all of which have gone their separate ways. There's the Mit-Mission family (Latin: to send): commit, remit, admit, emit, submit, manumit, permit, transmit and the rest all descended from Grandpa Mission. There are the fuses: defuse, infuse, confuse, suffuse and refuse along with strange children like effusive, whose verb-daddy is on his last legs.

(For those of you who never had the alloyed pleasure of chanting amo amare amavi amatum till your tongue bled, I should explain that a Latin verb has four principle parts that you need to memorise. The first is the normal verb, the last is called the "supine stem". It's approximately the equivalent of write wrote written and is the part you use to make nouns. So mitto mittere misi missum is still the reason that commit becomes commission.)

My favourite Latin clan are the wildly varied Duct-Duces (all from duco, duxi, ductus, the Latin for to lead). There are the philosphically minded siblings deduce, adduce, educe and induction who sneer at their commoner cousins reduce, produce, conduct and introduce, yet have some hopes for education. Some have gone into the legal profession like traduce and abduction and they occassionally have dinner with the bespectacled scientists transducer and ductile. There are the runaways, aqueduct and viaduct, who live in the countryside. And finally there's the wily young rake seduce: which in Latin means only to lead aside.

All, of course, under their leader: the Duke.

The supine stem of a plant that has come to my bathroom to die

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