Saturday, August 07, 2010

By the Sea, By the Sea . . .

Terry wrote, “I always thought that the root –pelag- related to the sea, but I came across an article about Augustine of Hippo which said that one of his works was titled Against Two Letters of the Pelagians. He wasn’t anti-mariner, was he?”

Indeed, the letter combination –pelag- can refer to the sea. It appears in archipelago, bathypelagic, mesopelagic, pelagian, pelagic, and pelagosaur, all indebted to a Greek word meaning sea [πελαγοσ].

The problem is that the same letter combination accidentally occurs in words that come from other sources. For instance, pelage (a mammal's covering of fur, hair, or wool), comes from a French word meaning hair. And the Pelagians against whom Augustine railed were named after the theologian Pelagius.

Pelagius was a 5th century writer, probably a Briton, who expressed doubts about original sin, the usefulness of infant baptism, and the overpowering nature of grace, among other things. It is possible that his name came from the word for sea, born as he was on an island, but I have no definitive proof.

SIDEBAR: Pelagius

Available from McFarland & Co.: Word Parts Dictionary, 2nd edition

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