Monday, October 22, 2007

An Armistice in the Interstices

A word buff reminded me recently of something that I had long forgotten: that the -stice segment of words such as armistice or solstice share the base meaning “to stop.”

It forced me to run for my dictionary, because my immediate assumption was that the -stice ending was simply a reflection of the Latin ending -itia, as in amicitia (friendship) or justitia (justice).

But it turns out that the form derives from the Latin verb sistere, which gave rise to stitium, a stopping. So the range of meaning involved here includes stop, stand, and cease. Related forms come from the Latin verb stare, to stand, which gave us station, stationary, and status.

Getting back to the stop suffix, we find a few examples:

• armistice: a cessation from arms for a time; a short truce. [arma = weapons]
• interstice: a space standing between things or parts. [inter = between]
• justitium: a legal vacation. The legal system stops for a while. [jus = law]
• solstice: two times a year (June 21 and December 22), when it is farthest from the equator, the sun seems to stop in its tracks. [sol = sun]
• lunistice: the point at which the moon is farthest north or farthest south and seems to stop for a while. [luna = moon]

No sign of januastice, a doorstop.

SIDEBAR: belly dance by Solstice

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