Brian from Petoskey
called to ask about the phrase alma mater. Originally applied to certain Roman Goddesses, it meant “nurturing
or bounteous mother.” Eventually, it was applied to schools, which are supposed
to nurture the minds of their students.
Brian asked if alumnus
was connected to alma mater. I replied that they came from different words: alma, the feminine form of an adjective meaning
nurturing, and alumnus, the masculine form of a noun meaning child, ward, or
pupil. What I missed on air was that they both came in turn from the verb alere, to nourish.
A wildcard search of the
online Oxford English Dictionary
revealed that other words have the same mother.
- abolish: literally, to keep someone away
- adolescent: to provide nourishment to
- alible: nourishing or nutritious. [rare]
- aliment: physical nourishment or sustenance.
- alimony: literally, food money.
- alition: the act of providing
- aliture: nourishment. [obs. rare]
- alterage: raising a foster child
- althea: an edible plant, the marsh mallow.
- altion: the act of nourishing. [obs. rare]
- altricial: referring to a bird or animal too
young to live on its own.
- old: originally, able to feed oneself.
Alimentary, my dear Watson.
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