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Wordy Weekly IX

Updated: Mar 29, 2021

Back to one Latin, one Greek again this week.

i) GRADE: The English word ‘grade’ has a variety of related meanings. It can mean ‘rank’ in the sense of group or status, it can denote a ‘step’, for example, in education (American schools refer to the different year groups as grades), the letter that sets and exam result, or in a physical sense ‘slope’ or ‘incline’, hence the related word ‘gradient’ referring to the angle or steepness of a slope. All stem ultimately from the Latin noun ‘gradus’ meaning step. The meaning is primarily a physical ‘step’, the steps of a building and also the ‘rung’ on a ladder. With this last, one can see the link between the more metaphorical meaning of ‘grade’ as a literal ‘rung’ on an actual ladder, as well as the ‘ladder’ of success or advancement. The notion of a ‘step’ is present in all the English meanings. In Latin, ‘gradus’ has a cognate verb ‘gradior’ – ‘I step’. Our word ‘gradient’ is the present participle (‘stepping’) of this verb.

ii) GEOGRAPHY: ‘a study of the earth’s features, lands, layout’, literally, ‘the drawing/writing of the earth’. The subject name derives from Greek as follows:

γη (gē) - earth, land

γραφω (graphō) - write, record

Geography refers to the understanding and accurate knowledge of the layout of the lands, at least in its original meaning and subject matter. This is distinct from GEOLOGY, which studies the physical and chemical composition and origins of the earth. This division is perhaps not so strictly observed nowadays. In school, I remember studying volcanoes, more properly the subject of GEOLOGY, in both GEOGRAPHY and CHEMISTRY. The modern school subject of GEOGRAPHY has also imported elements of economics, looking at a country’s GDP and industry, and even sociology.

The actual subject also finds its origins in the Ancient World. The ancient Egyptians, Indians, Greek, and Romans all explored and wrote about their beliefs and enquiries concerning the layout of the world.

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