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The Origin of Words from my up coming book

If you have received mail from me over the years you know I enjoy writing and especially the origin of words. Many have indicated they miss my missives each month, so here is something for you to digest or should that be ingest. I will include a page each month from my book called Genova's Word Almanac to be published sooner than later. I try to learn a word or phrase origin each day. The Book is set up with each day having a page and each page having a story of a word or a phrase. Attached are several sample pages. I hope you enjoy them and that it whets your appetite for the entire book in the near future.




November 6th

Visa Versa obviously means opposite, or reverse order, conversely. From Latin, literally the position being changed. Looking closer at the two words, their Indo Euro seminal roots are as follows;


Vice comes from weik meaning to bend or wind, as Gc wickerwork does. Things that are easily bent may be Gc weak, and Gc week meaning to turn or change originally the changing of the phase of the moon and hence our word week. Hence the vice part means change.


Versa is from a group of similar root words implying the idea of turning, in some case also bending, winding, and twisting. The turning sense > Gc suffix ward, as in toward (turned to) and inward (turned in). Worth, stalwart and weird (originally =f ate) are ? related to these, but the connection to me seems unclear.


More certainly related are L vertere, to turn, and several other similar verbs, whence the versatile (originally = changeable, turning) person, version (originally = translation, a turning from one language into another) versus (turned against), and here we come closes to versa, the vertebrae that body turns on, and verse, originally a line of writing from the furrows left by the turning plow ox. Also the idiomatic converse, originally = swell(move around (a place)) now hold a conversation with.


Compounds in this group include prose (turned forward), adverse (turned against, avert (turn something away), divert and diverge (turn from) anniversary (turn of a year), controversy (when people are turned against one another, convert (to change or turn someone or something, converge (turn together ) invert (turn upside down) extrovert (turned out) and introvert (turned in), pervert (turned altogether), revert (turn back) subvert (overturn) and universe is (everything turned into one).


 Visa Versa is sort of a conundrum. One word turning to another word, turning to the other word and so on. Like a dog chasing his tail.

June 18th...In the 1939 a biochemist, Adolph Butenandt, won the Nobel Prize for his work on human hormones. Adolph Hitler then in power wouldn't allow him to accept the prize.  So he turned to another line of research. He studied moths and why a female could attract male miles away. His study of the silkworm moth resulted in his isolating a substance he called bombykol. It was so powerful that should a female release all of her store in a single spray it would attract a trillion males to her side. In the same year two other scientist wanted to distinguish between hormones that travel within the body to produce their effects, and chemicals such as bombykol that are released into the environment and influence other individuals of the same species at a distance. They coined a new word from the Greek verb roots pherein, "to transfer", and hormon, 'to excite,' the word was pheromone, meaning something capable of exciting at distance.


Nov 26th...In the past before we all had our own personal timepieces people had to be informed when to pray, when an enemy was at the gates, when the town curfew was in effect and when we were to be summoned to dinner. Often a bell was used to indicate what activity was to be carried out. Many of us still use a bell to summon people to dinner on special occasions. The person whose job it was to keep watch and sound the bell was called the watchman a word we still use today. It is also the word we use for our own personal timepiece. We call it a watch.

Sept 9th...In the Middle Ages people of importance were concerned with being assassinated by poison. Whenever food was served it was assayed by an assayer. His job was to taste the food or assay it before the important person ate it. It was placed on a side table with some ceremony and the food was tasted to give it credence that it wasn't poisoned. The table eventually was called the credence table. In churches today there is a table near the altar in the church that is called a credence table. In our homes we have a similar table in our dinning rooms, and we call it by its Italian name, credenza.

Feb 7th...The great English explorer Captain James Cook asked a native of Australian the name of a strange marsupial Cook had spotted. The native answered, "kangaroo" meaning "I don't know." Cook assumed that this was what the native called the animal, which is how kangaroo (or "I don't know") got into the dictionaries.

April 23rd.I got a kick out this word. Cancan. This loud, sexy, high kicking dance that we associate with certain French clubs got its name from French children who thought the exuberant dance had the look of a duck waddling about on land. Their association between the bottom wiggling of ducks and dancers gave it its name. Canard is the French word for duck.

March 16th...My grandparents came from Sicily. In researching my family name I came across this fascinating origin of some family names. The foundling names, names given to orphans or illegitimate children, which became formal surnames over time, have a unique origin. In southern Italy, orphans would regularly be lined up in a public display for the purpose of "adoption." More often than not, the "adopting families" were actually looking for laborers on the farm, but the event was called the "esposto or esposito (exposure)." Esposito as a surname indicates a direct paternal ancestor was one of these orphans. (Recall Phil Esposito one of our hockey heroes). Less common foundling surnames include references to the innocence of illegitimate children in the sin of their parents, names like Innocenzo, di Dio (literally "of God"), di Iesue and Infante. And still others give an Italian wink to the illicit act, which produced them, like d'Amato and di Gioia (Love and Joy).