Sequences

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It’s always fun following a word’s progression through the language. Take the Latin sequi, secut-, from which many things follow — sequels, things sequential, and those consecutive, from com, “together,” and sequi, “follow”. This not only created real consequences, things following (with them); but also made them consequential.

Sequi, “to attend” or “follow” mutated into the Old French suitte, “attendance” or “act of following.” As a sout, it was  “attendance at court,” making for the syutor (1290), a frequent visitor there, later a suter, an “adherent” or “follower” and the suitor (1586) who courts or follows after a woman. From the livery or uniform worn there came a set of clothes worn together, our first suits (1400). Making them suitable (1577) “agreeable” or “convenient,” was their appropriateness to the occasion. Other things suitable included a suit of cards and a grouping of rooms following in close proximity, the  suite. Following things legally into the courts made for both legal suits and the right to sue via the Old French suer from the same sequere. The lack of any real follow-up ends with a logical fallacy, a non sequitur, “It does not follow.”

Word Origin Comics: If You Can’t Be a Dashing Figure Would You Settle for Being a Figurehead?

What’s a figurehead, Daddy?

Admiral. That part of a warship which does the talking while the figurehead does the thinking.

—- Ambrose Bierce

Dad has told me that he wished he would have showed the players how much he really cared for them, instead of always presenting himself as this stoic figurehead like he did at times.

—- Jim Mora

It’s a wonderful feeling when your father becomes not a god but a man to you- when he comes down from the mountain and you see he’s this man with weaknesses. And you love him as this whole being, not as a figurehead.

—- Robin Williams

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Teddy Bears et al

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Let’s talk eponyms today from epi, “upon” and onyma, “name”  —  words derived from the names of people. It happened to President Theodore (Teddy) Roosevelt while on a hunting trip to Mississippi. Members of his party stunned a bear, tied it to a tree, and encouraged T.R. to shoot it. The President refused. A cartoonist for the Washington Post depicted the event, and the story caught the fancy of the nation. The rest is history. A  Brooklyn candy store owner, Morris Michtom, fashioned a  teddy bear out of brown plush in 1902, the first of over 60 million cuddly creatures to bear his name.

Less clear cut is case of a delicious log-shaped bar made of chocolate-covered caramel and peanuts. The founder of the Curtis Candy Company named it  Babe Ruth in 1921 after President Cleveland’s daughter Ruth. But Cleveland hadn’t been president for nearly a quarter of a century, and his daughter had been dead for seventeen years. It was a blatant attempt by Curtis to avoid having to pay royalties to the Yankee slugger who was at the height of his popularity — a claim they still deny. The evidence, however, shows it, like the candy bar, to be quite nutty.

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Government for the Birds

How did politicians come to rule the roost? First of all, it’s not a roost, but a roast, referring to either a council or ruling body of that name or to the role played by the Lord of the manor presiding over dinner — carving and dispensing the roast.

For the origin of those political chickens coming home to roost (c.1810), we return to their inauguration. It began with Ancient Roman soothsayers who studied the movement and formations of birds in order to forecast the success of an enterprise. Combining avis, “bird” and specere, “to see,” they created auspicium, a “divination,” to describe the process.

When we incorporated auspicium into English, however, we were only interested in signs portending well for us — making an auspicious occasion one where the birds only flew right, were “full of good omens,” or “gave promise of success.”

Priests called augurs interpreted these auspicious signs, eventually being identified with events heralding new beginnings, making both for our inauguration and our ability to augur or “foretell the future.”

The inauguration of new public officials represents one of our more auspicious political events. We like to think that a new administration augurs well for us, but in our heart, we know better.

Temptation

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Many tempting ideas present themselves to us daily. What makes them so enticing is the burning desire they create from titionis, “firebrand,” from intitiare, “to set on fire.”  They titillate  us from   titillare, “to tickle.” When we finally make an attempt at them, we do so from the Latin ad,  “to” or “towards” and temptare,” “to try,”  “feel out,” or “test.”

A classic case from Greek mythology of one  tempting fate is the story of  the King of Lydia. Befriended by the Gods, he betrayed them, stealing their nectar and ambrosia and testing their divinity, serving them the flesh of his own son. For his deeds he was doomed to stand forever thirsty and hungry in a pool of water up to his chin. Whenever he bent to drink, the water would recede. His efforts to reach toward fruit hanging from a bough directly above, caused the wind to carry the branch away from him. His name was Tantalus, and his name would forever be linked to “provoking desire and creating expectations without fulfillment.” That’s what makes things out of our reach so tantalizing. You and I are clearly above it all, being as one with Oscar Wilde who could “…resist everything except for temptation

Word Origin Comics: How Cosmopolitan Are You?… And We’re Not Talking About the Magazine

In an age of Donald Trump, Ben Carlson, Ted Cruz and the Republican right whose philosophy and politics stress the divisions between people, we need to rescue a word from vocabulary past to better understand the moral challenge they now pose. That word is “cosmopolitan.” And it is to the cosmos and its origins to which we must turn for insights.

“Although I believe identity politics ‘”produces limited but real empowerment for its participants,” it is important to note that it contains significant problems: first, its essentialist tendency; second, its fixed “we-they” binary position; third, its homogenization of diverse social oppression; fourth, its simplification of the complexity and paradox of being privileged and unprivileged; and fifth its ruling out of intersectional space of diverse forms of oppression in reality.”

“Cosmopolitanism seeks a “we” that does not rely on the exclusion of others but, instead, recognizes and confirms each other as part of the planetary “we.” The cosmopolitan “we”is not grounded in a monolithic sameness but in a constant alterity and ethical singularity of each individual human person regardless of one’s national origin and belonging, religious affiliation, gender, race and ethnicity, class ability, or sexuality.”

― Namsoon Kang, Cosmopolitan Theology: Reconstituting Planetary Hospitality, Neighbor-Love, and Solidarity in an Uneven World

Alas, the word had now fallen on sad times. Read on to follow its devolution:

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Game Shows

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Who wants to be a millionaire? Your path to fame and fortune begins with the Latin via, “road.” — the first step via, “by way of” that special 800 number. Soon you come to a critical juncture, what the Romans called a trivium, from tri, “three,” + via, — creating the intersection of three roads where one and all gathered to share the latest gossip. The very mastery of such trivia allows you to continue.

Fortunately, you are already familiar with certain aspects of your trek from obvium, “that which you previously had met on the way,” from ob, “against,” + via, making your choices obvious. Removing them from your path, simply obviates them. However, the obstacles in your way become more and more devious, from deviare, taking you down another road, de, “away  from” your itinerary. Never once deviating from your goal, you are soon laughing all the way to the bank. The glitzy pianist, Liberace, coined that phrase back in 1954 in response to scathing reviews of his sold-out performances. His original statement had him ironically “crying,” not “laughing.” But when it comes to money, laughing is the American way, and knowledge is trivial.

Word Origin Comics: What’s Trending? Being in the Flow of Things

Are you up on the latest? Following the most recent trends? Get with it people!

“When modern sociologists talk of the necessity of accommodating one’s self to the trend of the time, they forget that the trend of the time at its best consists entirely of people who will not accommodate themselves to anything. At its worst it consists of many millions of frightened creatures all accommodating themselves to a trend that is not there. And that is becoming more and more the situation…Every man speaks of public opinion, and means by public opinion, public opinion minus his opinion.”
― G.K. Chesterton, Heretics

“Cigars are all the rage, dad. You should smoke cigars!” – Calvin

“Flatulence could be all the rage, but it would still be disgusting.” – Calvin’s mom”

― Bill Watterson, There’s Treasure Everywhere

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Dogging It

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Time to step out and party a bit, an occasion to put on the dog — affect some  sophistication and urbanity.

It all began back in the 11th century with King Boleslaus II of Poland who began the tradition during a war with Russia.

Concerned about the increasing incidence of infidelity on the home front and its impact on troop morale, he legislated that children born of such trysts be taken to the woods to die and the offending women be obligated to nurse puppies in their stead. They were also required to take these dogs wherever they went, resulting in their appearing publicly with them on their lap.

The practice, however, proved so commonplace and ultimately so popular, that it also became fashionable, giving birth to the concept of the lap dog.

Lapdogs were the rage in America after the Civil War, especially King Charles and Blenheim spaniels, imperious looking dogs very distant from the mutts most people knew.

Seeing these snooty dogs pampered by their pretentious owners inspired the charge of  putting on the dog which began as college slang at Yale in the 1860s and has been hounding  us ever since.

Word Origin Comics: How to Jumpstart Your Life

Is everyone ready to take a quantum leap? Let’s begin:

“Those who don’t jump will never fly.”
― Leena Ahmad Almashat, Harmony Letters

“The sparrows jumped before they knew how to fly, and they learned to fly only because they had jumped”
― Lauren Oliver, Liesl & Po

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