Thursday, August 25, 2016

Oneth, Twoth, Threeth


Judy from Elk Rapids asked why we use the adjectives first, second, and third instead of oneth, twoth, and threeth. After all, the rest of the numerical adjectives (fourth, fifth, sixth, etc.) routinely end in –th or –eth.

First of all, we need to make a distinction between types of numbers. When you add up and proclaim the actual number of units involved (one. two, three . . .), you are dealing with the cardinal numbers. Cardinal in this sense means a hinge. The choice of the adjective to describe a particular number hinges upon how many items are involved. For instance, if we are focusing on the numbers six, seven, and eight, we wouldn’t choose ninth, tenth, and eleventh to represent them. It would be sixth, seventh, and eighth.

Now, those adjective forms ending in –th or –eth are called ordinal numbers. They show the spatial or chronological order or sequence involved—the fifth window from the left, the eighth person to come through the door.

Back to oneth, twoth, threeth. The reason why they don’t exist, logical though they might be, was that they were preceded by different well-established forms. First was firmly set in place in Germanic and Old English. Second was locked in by Latin/French words that meant next after the first. Third was also set in stone by Latin/Germanic words, and unlike first for one and second for two, at least third and three bear some resemblance to each another.

And there’s another reason why one/first, two/second, and three/third aren’t all that unusual in English. There are many adjectives that look nothing at all like their nouns. That’s because they don’t share the same root. Technically, such an adjective is called a collateral adjective.

The animal kingdom is rife with such disparities.  Consider the following animal names (nouns) and the adjectives that represent them:

cat (feline)
dog (canine)
cow (bovine)
dove (columbine)
gerbil (cricetine)
pig (porcine)
sheep (ovine)
wolf (lupine)


The absence of tightly woven resemblances (no cat/catine or dog/dogine in that list) makes one/first and two/second look a lot less exotic.


Listen to Mike’s program in real time every Tuesday morning, 9:10 - 10:00 a.m. EST, by going to wtcmradio.com and clicking on Listen Now. You’ll also find about a month’s worth of podcasts there under The Ron Jolly Show.



Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Bolt


Last Sunday’s Traverse City Record-Eagle ran this teaser in a box at the top of page 1: “World’s fastest man ‘Bolts’ into action at the Olympics.” The reference was to Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt, and the verb bolts was used with the meaning to proceed rapidly.

I’m always entertained by words with multiple meanings, and bolt is one of them. Here is the rundown from the Oxford English Dictionary.

BOLT
n.
·      a short arrow
·      a thunderbolt  [a bolt from the blue]
·      a stout sliding pin for fastening a door
·      a metal pin with a head secured by a nut
·      a sliding metal rod in the breech mechanism of a rifle
·      a sudden spring or start

v.
·      to move suddenly
·      to take flight or escape
·      of a horse: to escape the rider’s control
·      to break away from a political party
·      to swallow hastily without chewing


Listen to Mike’s program in real time every Tuesday morning, 9:10 - 10:00 a.m. EST, by going to wtcmradio.com and clicking on Listen Now. You’ll also find about a month’s worth of podcasts there under The Ron Jolly Show.





Friday, August 12, 2016

Starboard and Port



Bob from Traverse City asked about the nautical terms starboard and port—specifically, he wondered why sailors don’t simply use the words right and left.

Right and left are relative terms; they depend on the direction you are facing. Traditionally, if you are at the back of a boat looking forward, starboard is to your right, and port is on your left, and those words are maintained no matter which direction you are subsequently facing. Otherwise, we’d have a confused and frantic last-second discussion: “do you mean my right or your right?!”

As to why those particular words are used, there are historical reasons. In early Germanic boats, the rudder was not centered in the back of the vessel as it is today. Rather, it was a steering oar attached to the right side (because right-handed helmsmen were statistically predominant—90%). Board meant the side of a boat, and star was actually a variation of a Germanic/Dutch word that meant steering. So starboard translates as the steering side.

Port was a late addition to naval vocabulary. Earlier, the term was larboard—the loading side. You couldn’t load on the starboard side because the rudder was in the way and might be damaged. In port, you would dock with the left side of the boat facing the pier or the shoreline.

Since larboard could be mistaken for starboard in stormy conditions, the Latin term portus (port, harbor, passageway) was eventually substituted. The British Navy made it official in 1844.

Listen to Mike’s program in real time every Tuesday morning, 9:10 - 10:00 a.m. EST, by going to wtcmradio.com and clicking on Listen Now. You’ll also find about a month’s worth of podcasts there under The Ron Jolly Show.





Thursday, July 28, 2016

Tack


Geoffrey wrote, “Yesterday I was at the local saddle and bridle store (Square Deal Country Store) and I thought, this is the tack store.  So my wife and I are wondering about the origin of the word tack as it refers to horses, bridles, saddles, etc.”

Tack came from similar words that existed in German, Dutch, French and Celtic. It meant to fasten or attach, and referred to the buckles and fasteners used in preparing a horse for work or for riding.

The Oxford English Dictionary has many meanings for tack, n1

·      a small sharp-pointed nail, as in thumb tack, carpet tack, brass tack

·      a support or fastening in the shape of a strip used to secure plant shoots or a pipe

·      a temporary stitch used in sewing

·      a stickiness felt before varnish dries completely

·      the rope or lashing used to secure a ship’s sail

·      the zigzag course of a sailing ship influenced by the direction of the wind and the position of the sails


·      a circuitous line of conduct or action


Listen to Mike’s program in real time every Tuesday morning, 9:10 - 10:00 a.m. EST, by going to wtcmradio.com and clicking on Listen Now. You’ll also find about a month’s worth of podcasts there under The Ron Jolly Show.





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