Wednesday, October 25, 2006



Q. Why do some words in the dictionary have raised numbers? Two examples are forte-1 and truck-2.

A. Those raised numbers are called superscripts, and they are used with words that have identical spellings but come from totally different sources.

For instance, you'll find pedo-1 and pedo-2 listed as prefixes. The first comes from a Greek word meaning soil; the latter comes from a Greek word meaning child. And even though children are notorious for getting dirty, the identical spellings are a sheer accident of history.

I'm going to pair that answer with another one:

Q. I was wondering about the word "stat" that doctors use for hospital emergencies. The dictionary definition is "a clipped form of statistic." Is that the origin of the word?

A. The "stat" in medical circles comes from the Latin word statim, an adverb which meant "at once" or "instantly." As it turns out, the medical "stat" has no connection with the word statistics.

That word ultimately came from a Latin word that meant position or form of government. State and statute share the root with statistics.

If you look at your dictionary again, you'll find stat-1 and stat-2. The spellings are identical, but the etymologies are not.

[NOTE: this program does not support superscripts]

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