Saturday, February 02, 2013

Groundhog Day



Today is Groundhog Day.   Also known as a woodchuck, the animal is basically a squirrel on steroids. It is a rodent, which means that it gnaws incessantly.

The word rodent comes from the Latin verb rodere, to gnaw, eat away, or erode. It started off meaning corrosive, then erosive, then became a classification for gnawing mammals. Common words  based on the Latin verb include corrode, erode, the aforementioned rodent, and rostrum. Rostrum?!

I was startled to see rostrum in the list when I did a wildcard search on the online Oxford English Dictionary. It’s a platform or stage, a structure used by public speakers or by music conductors. But how does that fit in with gnawing? It turns out that the original rostrum stood in the Forum of ancient Rome. It was decorated with the beakheads of captured warships. Beaks . . . gnawing—there’s the connection.

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

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