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Wordy Weekly 10

i) HABIT: ‘a custom, practice to which one adheres’ or ‘the customary garb of a member of a religious order’ – two apparently very different meanings, but which in fact derive from the same Latin verb: ‘habeo, habere, habui, habitus’have, hold, keep. The English word comes from the fourth part of the Latin verb, the past participle, which literally means ‘that which is had/held’. From this meaning, the notion of ‘something which is worn’ is clear. It is literally ‘held’ by the body. A customary practice is also something people ‘hold’ in that they keep to it and maintain it. Both the previous physical and this more metaphorical meaning were present in the Latin word. In Latin, word also applied to a state of being or condition (‘in which one was held’), hence the cognate noun ‘habitus’ – state, condition.

ii) HERBOLOGY: ‘the study of plant and herb lore’ (and no, this is not just a Harry Potterism: A hybrid word, which is why I chose it. We have met the -logy suffix before, when we looked at Biology back in Wordy Weekly IV. It is Greek and comes from λογὸς meaning ‘explanation’ or ‘discourse (on)’. But ‘herba’ is Latin, meaning ‘grass’ or ‘plant’. It is worth noting here that it is debated as to whether the Latin ‘h’ was silent, a soft ‘aspirate’, or a harsher ‘h’ sound as we would use.

iii) HERO: You will perhaps remember when we were on ‘e’ in week VII, I chose to do ‘helix’, which begins with an ‘e’ in Greek, but not in English. Greek has no ‘h’, only the rough breathing sign (῾). So, this week, once again a word that begins with ‘h’ in English but a long ‘e’ in Greek. I also chose it, because this is such an important work in Greek culture. Achilles, Odysseus, Ajax, famous athletes, warriors, Harmodius and Aristogeiton (the Athenian ‘tyrant-slayers’), and the list goes on. The hero was a central figure in Greek culture and literature, giving us some of the finest poetry ever, Homer, Pindar, and, of course in Latin, Virgil. We still love a good hero. He/she is always flawed, but brave and just, even if his/her methods are not always thus. Achilles vs Spiderman or Wonder Woman, even Sherlock Holmes? Who is your favourite? I’ll leave that for you to decide, please do leave a post.

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